...Something wasn't right. Or rather, something was more wrong than usual. A thought kept repeating in Star's head, round and round like a calliope rag. It felt off, somehow, not shaped proper, as if the thought weren't born within his own brain. Sure'n it didnt sound like his kinda thinkin'.
'Follow the gopher.'
But what in hell did it mean? Tarnation's wheel, they were aboard an airship! Weren't no rodents on the Ida Leigh. Leastways, weren't none furred or 4-legged.
'Maybe I oughta switch over to rum a while,' Steps thought as he loaded a pallet jack with flour 20-pounders and drove it updecks to the pantry. Easy work, but it gave him too much thinkin' time. Wasn't healthy for a man. Better his muscles ached than his brain.
Steps parked the jack near the pantry door; now it was delivered, the kitchen auto could restock it itself. He turned to leave, but caught the cupboard door swingin' free and sighed.
'Damn clockwork can't even keep the grub stowed. Be better off with a coat rack on wheels,' he groused, returning to secure the door. A quick look inside to make sure nothing was missing set LeQuin's blood runnin' cold.
There against the back wall, sitting under the chill lights, was a stack of crates. Meats, assorted and freeze-dried by the label. But the brand was what held LeQuin stupefied.
Steps twitched at the sight of the cartoon gopher givin' its goofy little thumb's-up, and he slammed the door hard enough to rattle its hinges. Part of him wanted to look again; it was a hall...a hallucy...it was a damn mirage, 's what it was. And even if it wasnt, so what? A cartoon rat didn't mean a hill of shit, even on a boat off-keel as the Ida. Star headed back to his bunk; duties be damned, it was time for another touch'a the crayture.
He sat nearly an hour, bottle of man's grace in hand, warming him from within at every sip. New thought now, same as the old thought.
'The gopher knows.'
Well, good for the little bastard. Helped Steps get a handle on matters about as much as a fart in a wine bottle. But maybe...
'In the kitchen...answers in the kitchen?'
Could that be it? Was there something...or someone...in the kitchen that could end this mystery? Or at least give the crew a fightin' chance?
One way to find out. Steps stowed his liquor and headed amidships. Didnt know what he'd do there, didnt care. Figured on trailin' whoever popped up. And after another hour of slippin' doors and listenin' in where he weren't known, LeQuin was beginning to question his suspicions of Beguile's Mistress.
Aye. Now, it were fast becomin' That Girl Analise that Star trusted less and less.