The Alnilam's corridors were still in a flurry of activity as Koz made his way back to the engine room. Several lifts were stalled due to still-frozen gears, and every so often he'd pass a jagged starburst of luminous blue-white ice from where the Comet had struck an obstacle in the hallway. Most of the damage, as far as he knew, was restricted to the crew living quarters on Level 4, and even that was more in the form of inconvenience than actual destruction. Many of the off-duty crew memebers had attempted to take cover in their quarters during the rampage, and were now trapped behind thick sheets of shining ice that teams were busy defrosting. From the sound of things most were cold but unharmed. Koz got some curious looks as he prowled through the crowds, and more than a few questions about their new guest. These he waved away, finding out the status of the engines was his first priority right now. He trusted the Medical and Tech teams to deal with Jack's ice for the time being.
As he waited for one of the functioning lifts, Koz rubbed his temples, trying to drown out the surrounding clamor. He didn't even want to think about what would have happened if Jack had actually been trying to destroy his ship. At least he hadn't seriously injured anyone, though it did sound like there were a few frostbitten noses/tails/fingers. His lift didn't appear to be in any hurry to arrive, so he stopped a passing lieutenant to get a more detailed report of the situation.
Aside from the frozen doors, it turned out that Jack had knocked out the lights in several corridor sections. The worst bit of true damage that they'd discovered was that the climate controls on the cell block had been shorted out, but seeing as the cells were currently unoccupied it wasn't a major issue. Jack had also toppled several cargo crates in the hold, but Maintenance was already on it. Koz thanked the lieutenant and sent him on his way. So far, nothing that couldn't be fixed with a bit of elbow grease and heat.
The engines, however, were another story, as he found when lift finally arrived to take him to the Alnilam's blazing heart. At first, nothing seemed amiss to Koz, but he really wasn't the technical type. Battle strategy and team command, no problem. A pile of metal and blinking lights? Let someone else deal with it. As far as he could tell, everything looked, sounded, and felt just as loud and hot as always. The steady, deep rumbling of the Alnilam's four great engines filled his ears, yet he remembered how the stars outside his window hadn't moved. “Tell me you have good news,” he called out to the Head Mechanic, a hulking troll-like being named Jasper.
“I do. We haven't caught fire and exploded. And apparently the kitchen's still in good shape,” Jasper grunted. When Koz didn't smile, he shook his tusked head and gestured with an oversize but dexterous hand. “But seriously, we've got a slight problem.”
“Engine One. Metal, even these casings, can't take a constant drastic temperature change, and your little stowaway had a grudge against this one in particular. His aim was impeccable.” Jasper led Koz up to one of the looming, cylindrical casings. A long crack had appeared in the metal, faint golden light pouring through. “Every time he hit it, he somehow managed to freeze it solid. Don't know how something so small could be so strong. Then it defrosted, and he hit it again. And again. Hot, cold, hot, cold. That would shatter even the strongest sword.”
Koz nodded absently, staring at the crack. Jasper had a way of explaining things in Koz's language. “And what, exactly, does this mean? Can you fix it, or are we dead in the air?”
“Not quite to both, General.” Jasper turned away for a moment to issue some directions to a cluster of mechanics, then continued. “The other three engines are fine, and we can run at sublight no problem, a bit faster if we catch a starwind with the sails. But, without all of 'em up and running we don't have a reliable warp drive.”
Gods, could this trip get any worse? Koz groaned. He was going to strangle Jack, Celestial Body or not. “So we are stranded, for all intensive purposes.”
“Didn't say that,” grunted the Head Mechanic, holding up a claw. “We can patch it, but we don't have the materials to fully repair damage this extensive on board. But,” he continued, “there is a planet nearby, Nozama, where I believe we can get the necessary goods. It's a good thing this didn't happen in the Outer Reaches. The temporary patch should hold long enough to make the jump.”
“And if it doesn't?” Koz stared.
“Oh, we won't explode or anything, General. It's our pride that'll take a hit more than anything. If worse comes to worse we get jolted outta hyperspace, a few bumps all around, and we'll have to call a tow ship. I know it ain't the most dignified manner of arrival but hey,” he shrugged. “Not the end of the world. Coulda been much, much worse.”
Koz glared up at the offending crack. “Assuming your team patches this up now, how long to the planet?”
“About a day by my calculations. Bit longer if we gotta wait for a tow. You know how they are in these parts. Course, the fact that we're the Alnilam should speed 'em up a bit.”
Another day or more. Wonderful. Koz left Jasper and his team to their work and headed back to the lift. The Shining General forced himself to find a bright side in all of this as he returned to the coolness and relative quiet of the outer corridor. This detour would at least be to a civilized world, and he could let the crew disembark for a Dream-Pirate-free breath of fresh air and sunlight. It was the least he could do for them, since a the rate things were going there was no sure sign that this blasted journey was even close to its end. Also, replenishing the ship's food stores probably wasn't a bad idea. He sent word to the bridge so they could notify the crew of the situation, then decided to check back in on his guest. Hopefully Jack hadn't caused even more trouble while he was making the rounds.
The door guards reported no trouble, and the entrance hall was ice-free as Koz stepped through. Prowling across his study to the bedroom, he found the Comet was no longer curled up on top of his cape. There was, however, a Jack-size lump beneath the covers. Koz stepped quietly to the foot of the bed. He wasn't certain if the Comet was asleep or attempting to hide. If the latter, he wasn't doing a very good job of it. In addition to the mound under the covers, several feet of luminescent tail protruded from the comforter's far edge, draping up over the pillows. The tip twitched occasionally.
As Koz stood there, the lump began to slowly edge closer to the foot of the bed.
The tall Celestial leaned forward, lifting the edge of the covers before it reached its goal, revealing a pair of wide multicolored eyes beneath a mop of pale hair. “You know, most people sleep with their heads on the pillows. At least, that's how us earthbound folk do.” Jack's only response was to stick out a turquoise tongue, trying to pretend his fun hadn't been ruined. Koz glared. “You have succeeded in breaking my ship, do you know that?” He sighed. “Thanks to you we have been further delayed in our journey home, and we will need to stop at the next world we come to in order to make repairs to the engine.”
Jack's face fell, ears drooping. “I didn't mean to...I swear...” He retreated back beneath the bed-covers.
Koz's expression softened. “I still have much to attend to today. You will remain here, and behave yourself. But, if you so much as freeze a window I will shoot you out of one of the cannons, so help me.”
Jack averted his shimmering eyes. “I'm sorry. I'll behave, I promise. You...wouldn't really do that, would you?” He was silent for a moment, gazing at Koz thoughtfully, then his ears perked up. “If I'm good, will you take me with you down to that planet? I want to see new worlds! I'll stay right beside you, and I swear I'll follow orders. Sir.” He attempted a clumsy salute.
Koz crossed his arms, staring down at the Comet with the expression he used to give Seraphina when she was being stubborn. Jack had made it onto his ship without his permission, and Koz got the impression he would follow him off it in the same manner. Still, the Shining General could at least maintain the image of control in this situation. He retrieved his cape from the bed, hooking it back in its proper place. “I will think on it. If this room is still in one piece and free of ice when I return. In the meantime, you should continue to rest. There are many books to read in the study, and that small control by the bed is for the vidscreen. I'm sure you can figure it out, and you may be able to find a few stations that come in.” He paused in the doorway. “I will send someone up with food shortly. Don't get any ideas on trying to bully your way past them, though, I've a few crew members with good control of fire magic.”
Leaving the pouting Comet behind, Koz returned to the main hall. A few officers peered around the corner as he strode forward, but they vanished as soon as they caught him looking. Koz hadn't even thought about what the crew's reaction to their new guest would be now that things had settled down. They had traveled from one end of the cosmos to the other, but most hand probably never seen anything quite like Jack Frost. There were going to be plenty of curious folk trying to get a look at him.
Koz hadn't informed headquarters yet, either. He knew he'd have to eventually. Celestial Bodies such as Comets and wandering Stars were outside of the jurisdiction of the Constellations, and were generally allowed to do as they pleased unless their actions posed a danger to civilized worlds, but headquarters liked to keep tabs on them if one did appear since information was scarce. Aside from his superiors and the Alnilam's crew, Koz decided it would be best if no one else found out about Jack. Even in this Golden Age, there were people who would see a Comet as nothing more then a way to make a profit. Slavers and traders in exotic fauna wouldn't think twice about capturing him and selling him on the black market. Koz would have to figure out how to best keep tabs on him once they reached Nozama. If Jack went and got himself captured, Koz was not going to take a further detour to rescue his sparkly little ass. At least, that's what he told himself as he hurried toward the bridge.
Most of the crew quarters doors were finally defrosted, and the lift seemed to be fully up and running. Koz nodded apologetically to a few officers sporting bruises as he sped by. Falchion caught up with him before he reached the lifts. “How is our guest?” She trotted alongside him.
“Sulking around in my quarters, but he seems content to stay there for now. He doesn't say it but his little rampage wore him out more than he'd like to admit, I think.”
“That was a lot of ice for one little Comet,” she acknowledged. “Are they all that strong, I wonder? Still, a Comet. I never thought I'd get to see one, let alone up close.”
“A sentiment I'm sure the rest of the crew shares. However, I don't wish for them to share it with anyone else. Colonel, I will be making an announcement to the entire ship once I get to the bridge, but make sure this lot does not let word of Jack's presence get out.” Falchion nodded and bounded off.
Above Level 4, things were proceeding fairly normally. Jack hadn't made it any higher than the crew quarters, fortunately. If he had managed to get into the research rooms, or Medical, or the hangars... Koz pushed the thoughts from his mind. The threat was, at least temporarily, neutralized. All that remained was figuring out how best to proceed. On these upper levels, he got even more curious and somewhat hopeful looks. The crew that had missed the excitement of Jack's adventures were hoping for a glance of the Comet, but they quickly went back to their business when they realized Koz was alone.
Almost as soon as he reached the bridge, Koz received a message from Jasper that they were ready to attempt the jump. “I'm keepin' an eye on this thing, but just be prepared for a sudden stop.”
Here goes nothing, Koz thought, knuckles white as he clutched the railing. The Alnilam lurched forward, jumping to warp. After a few shaky moments, the ship's movements became steadier, and he relaxed slightly. So far, so good.
“We're on our way!” Jasper confirmed.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and for that Koz thanked his lucky stars by name. Over the next few hours, the ship flew smoothly through the ether, and crew activity returned to its usual level. Koz announced strict orders that no one was to speak of Jack to outsiders, and reassured them that their guest was well under control. This was met with great relief, as was the notice that they would all be getting at least a day of real earth beneath their feet and blue sky above. He also sent a transmission to the Eternal City, finally briefing them on the events leading up to the Comet's arrival on the Alnilam. The Tsars Lunar seemed almost amused with the whole situation, and reassured Koz that they would certainly try and aid Jack once the ship reached the Eternal City. “You always have the most fascinating adventures, General.”
“Yet I will happily settle for many weeks of rest and relaxation once I return home.”
“And you shall have them. Fly safe, Kozmotis.”
The Alnilam was still sailing along many hours later, with only the occasional hiccup, when Koz decided there was little more he could do that day. Before returning to his quarters for the evening, he made a final round of areas that Jack had visited. Level 4 was back to normal, with only a bit of cosmetic damage to show. Level 3, Maintenance, had escaped Jack's wrath. The cells of Level 2 were still a bit too cold, but the mechanics assured him the climate controls were nearly repaired.. The cleanup of Storage Level 1 was just wrapping up, and as Koz passed through they were stacking up the last section of cargo crates that Jack had knocked over in his frenzy to escape.
Arriving back at his quarters at last, Koz discovered that Jack had made himself quite at home. The Comet had built a little nest of pillows and blankets, and a tray sat on the bedside table nearby, picked spotlessly clean of food. A book of star charts and lore was abandoned by Jack's side as he was currently busy watching the vidscreen with a glazed expression. Koz edged around to see what channel he'd found. This far out, there was a great deal of static, but it appeared to be infomercials. There was no escaping them, even in the vastness of the cosmos. Jack blinked suddenly, seeming to just now notice Koz. He pointed to the screen, still looking a bit dazed.
“Koz. What do I do to get paid? I need money.”
“No, you don't. You probably can't understand what they're saying, let alone what they're selling, and even if you could you wouldn't need it. How did you even find that channel?”
“It was the only thing that came in. I pushed a bunch of buttons. This vid-thing is neat, they didn't have them back on my world.”
“And you were probably better off for it.” Koz only had the 'vid-thing' because it came with the room, and spent most of its days gathering dust. He switched the screen off, ignoring the Comet's glare. He then grabbed several blankets and pillows from Jack's nest and carried them into the study. Pushing the writing table and chair to one side, he set about making a little bed below the window. “Here, this is where you will stay.”
“But I like this bed.”
“Too bad. It belongs to me, and after all you've done today the least you can do is return it to me. Besides, you are supposed to be on your best behavior, isn't that right?”
Jack looked like he was about to protest, but his mouth snapped shut. His ears drooped again as he pondered the truth of Koz's words, and he quietly floated over to the makeshift bed clutching the book of star charts. He burrowed into the blankets, opened the book, and made a great show of appearing immensely interested in its contents. Koz decided not to point out he was holding it upside down.
Once he seemed settled, Koz straightened up his bedroom. After a hot shower in which he allowed himself a bit more time than usual, he almost could say he felt refreshed. He slid into bed, pulling out the small portable computer that Seraphina had bought him. It was the only bit of personal technology that he used regularly. Regularly meaning sending mail to Seraphina and a few others every couple of nights, and looking up the occasional bit of information. Like the vidscreen, it spent the majority of its existence in the drawer of the bedside table.
He sent his daughter a brief rundown of the day's events, Jack included. She was not the kind to speak loosely, and he knew he could trust her. She would be quite interested in Jack, of that he had no doubt. He was about to turn the little computer off once the message sent, but an idea occurred to him. He did know one person who might be able to teach him a little about Comets. Sanderson Mansnoozie was a Star Pilot, one of the best. Star Wrangling was his life, and he had traveled the cosmos for centuries. If anyone would know some useful information, it would be Sandy. He was often busy with his duties, or asleep, but Koz figured it was worth a shot on the off chance he'd get a response before they disembarked tomorrow.
As a final thought before he logged off, he looked up the planet they would be visiting. Nozama was a resource-rich world with a warm, tropical climate. Despite being so far out of the way, it was a bustling trade center with several large cities and a variety of inhabitants. Good, maybe between the climate and Jack's sunstone collar he'd actually be manageable tomorrow. Unlikely.
Koz shut down the little computer and stowed it away. With a wide yawn he switched off the lights, drawing up the covers as if they could ward off bad luck for the night. Everything smelled like Jack, a sort of cool metallic, faintly pine scent. It reminded Koz of starlight on a Winter's night. The last thing he remembered seeing before drifting off to sleep was Jack's slender, faintly glowing frame outlined against the swirling and ever changing light of hyperspace as the little Comet gazed out of the study's window.