“He held out his palm. On his hand rested what looked like a metallic human heart, roughly the same size and shape.
"Is that the real engine?" Ben-Ari asked.
Mwarabu nodded. "The heart of the ship. This is where we store the azoth, the stardust, the juice, the magic. The material that makes warp speed possible." He opened the heart like opening a locket. Inside were blue crystal shards, each piece smaller than a fingernail. "Do you see the azoth pieces inside? This used to be a single, large crystal. Expert gemcutters spent a full year cutting the stone to just the right shape, down to the last atom. Only through such a crystal can we alter spacetime. Somebody opened the metal heart, then smashed this crystal into pieces. It’s useless now." The major closed the metal heart, sealing the blue shards, and shook his head sadly. "If you ask me, somebody did this after we crashed. Only way to reach this heart is the way I just did—by climbing into the cool engine casing. Someone, in the chaos after the crash, made it to the heart before we did." He tossed the heart aside. It clanged against the ground. "This I cannot repair. Without an azoth heart, the Miyari is good as dead."
Ben-Ari inhaled sharply. Her hand strayed toward her gun. "We’re dealing with somebody determined. They not only unscrewed the engine casing during the battle, letting us crash down. After the crash, they knew to open the casing, find the heart, shatter the crystal inside, and finish the job." She frowned. "And they tried to hide their work. To make the scum look like the culprits. I reckon that you dusted for fingerprints?"
Mwarabu nodded. "Nothing. Our saboteur did careful work. No prints. No DNA left. An expert job. And somehow done within the past few hours, all in the chaos after the crash."
Ben-Ari frowned. "We’re dealing with a professional."
"You seem to know a lot about how the saboteur operates, Lieutenant," said Captain Petty, turning toward Ben-Ari. A twisted smile tugged at her lips. "I wonder. A junior officer with no homeland, jealous of her commanding officer, seeking new allies among the aliens—"
"Enough!" Ben-Ari said, unable to curb her anger. She stepped toward Petty and sneered. "Ma’am, you outrank me, but right now you’re cut off from the rest of the military. I will not tolerate your goading. I fought scum. I killed scum. I dedicated my life to defending humanity. And I will not—I will not!—listen to your baseless accusations. We will find the saboteur. And we will prove his or her guilt. But we must not turn against one another. Not if we’re to survive here."
Petty stared at her, silent for a long moment, and gears seemed to be turning behind her eyes. Finally she nodded—slowly, carefully. "Yes, we will find the saboteur. And we will find proof. And when we find the traitor, when we prove her guilt, I will gladly put a bullet in her head."
Major Mwarabu shifted uncomfortably, and Ben-Ari was about to reply, when a voice spoke beside them.
"There is a heart inside this moon."
Ben-Ari nearly jumped and fired her gun. She spun around to see that Osiris stood beside them. Ben-Ari hadn’t even noticed the android approach. Nor had Mwarabu and Petty, judging by how they started.
Ben-Ari still found Osiris unnerving. She had never met an android before. On Earth, robots were not humanoid, could not speak, merely performed mundane tasks such as welding ships, assembling tanks, and flipping burgers. Osiris, with her alabaster skin, platinum bob cut, and lavender eyes, lived deep in uncanny valley. Her twitching smile and knowing eyes—God, there was true awareness in those eyes, calculating and just slightly mocking—only added to Ben-Ari’s unease.
Captain Petty laughed. "Release your gun, Ben-Ari. It’s only our toy. The most expensive toy on this ship. Don’t put a bullet through it." She turned toward Osiris. "What do you mean?"
A smile stretched across Osiris’s lips. "My database indicates the presence of a second azoth heart on this moon, one compatible with the Miyari ‘s engine. It pumps deep within the mine below Corpus City, powering the great drills, smelters, and machinery that extract more azoth from the moon. We can borrow the heart from the mine, install it into the Miyari , and return to space." Her smile widened into a sickly grin. "We just need to go deep into the mines to find it."”