Geo dropped Vale off in front of Dash’s office four hours later, offering her a pat of good luck before bolting off. Vale stifled a yawn as she knocked on the door. “Come in,” Dash called.
Vale moved into a sleek office. The far wall was made entirely of glass. The floor was covered in a deep purple carpet and the walls were dark grey. Pictures of famous landmarks from the old days of earth hung on the walls, a remembrance of what used to be.
Dash sat behind his desk, a pair of thick-rimmed glasses on his face. Papers lay scattered all across the desk. He was staring down at a screen, the dim blue light highlighting his strong jaw, and casting shadows across his face.
Dash glanced up and immediately turned off the screen. He watched her as she walked in and sat down in the only other chair in the room sitting across from him. “You were on the sixth floor.”
“I know,” Vale said quietly, making no move to defend herself. There was no point.
Dash took off his reading glasses and placed them on the table. “And I told you what would happen if you went onto floors sixth through eight.”
“And you came up anyway.” Dash placed his chin on his fist, tilting his head as he stared at her.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw you off the ship right now.”
This was her moment to decide if she could trust Dash. Sky had made it clear to hide his journal before they boarded. But did he know what ship it was? And Dash had saved Sky’s life and helped her twice already. She needed to trust her gut, even if it made Sky angry.
“I am looking for the people on the Threats to the AI Directive List. A list of people that the AI’s want to kill. I want to warn them.” Vale held her breath as she watched Dash.
His face did not change. Instead, he leaned back in his chair and asked another question. “And how do I know what side of that list you are on?”
Vale swallowed. “My entire Lightning Seeker crew was killed by an AI ship and it was far from an accident. I am sure that if you had a copy of their list, my name would be on it now, or will be soon.”
Dash picked up the small screen on his desk and stood. Walking around the desk, he sat down on the edge of it, a few feet away from Vale. Moving his fingers across the screen, it lit up. “Your name isn’t on The Libertatem crew list.
Vale hoped he believed her next words. “I know. I snuck on before it left on its maiden voyage.”
Dash snorted. “Convenient story. So you sneak onto that ship. And then it suddenly gets taken down?”
“And you are one of the only survivors?” Dash’s words sound accusatory.
Vale sucks in an uneasy breath. “Yes.”
Dash motioned for her to explain. The worlds spilled out of Vale. How she had snuck onto The Libertatem, how she had spotted the lightning and helped them capture it, making history. How the ship crashed into Resistere Futilis. How Vale landed onto the enemy ship and Sky kept her a secret from the AI’s until they escaped and came to The Ignis.
Dash put down the screen as he listened, crossing his arms, his face growing more and more serious until she nearly stopped by the look of frustration in his eyes. “You saved Sky’s life and here we are,” Vale finished.
“I just want to make sure I got all the pieces right,” he said rubbing the bridge of his nose. “So first you sneak onto one ship. Get caught, get made part of the crew and then the ship gets taken down. Then you conveniently fall onto the enemy ship and roam around with Sky undetected until the very end when you escape and show up here.”
Dash leaned forward. “I am sure you can understand why I find parts of this story to be... unbelievable.” He ran his hand down his face, muttering, “so that’s where he’s been this whole time.”
He tapped the table with his fingers in a rhythmic pattern, thinking. “And after you warn all these people on this list, what will you do after that?”
“I want to fix things. I want to know why these people are on the list, and see what their plan is. Maybe I can help.”
Vale’s hands rolled into fists, determination like fire in her veins. “Help protect people from the AI’s. No one should die because they want something more.”
“You can stay and help on the sixth floor,” Dash said surprising Vale.
“Geo told me how well you did. Would you consider giving up your hunt for this list of people and make an actual difference here?”
Vale paused, thinking about it. She did enjoy helping all of those people earlier. Using her hand to save. But then she thought of the AI’s trying to reprogram Sky. How they had stolen Mortem’s life. “I am glad you trust me to work on the sixth floor, but I can only do so until I am well enough to leave and find the list members. There are others out there who need help.”
“When you first arrived on my ship, you agreed that we could haggle if I saved Sky’s life.”
Vale nodded, torn between curiosity and dread. “I remember.”
“If I said I wanted your arm as payment?”
Vale reached up and tugged her shirt sleeve up and over the bolts that kept her metal shoulder in place. “Then I would say grab the wrench and take it.”
Dash’s brows rose. “Just like that?”
“You saved his life. I can always get another arm.”
“Not one like this one.”
“True. But that doesn’t change my mind. A human life is worth far more than this.”
Dash nodded, seeming to decide something. He reached onto his desk and picked up his scalpel. “This used to belong to my father.” He smiled down at it as he twirled it in his hands. “A gifted healer. He was so well known in fact, that became his nickname, The Healer.”
Vale’s eyes went wide, “The Master of Health, Sorin Dust of the Tradesmen,” she whispered, the realization hitting her like a bucket of ice water. “He’s your father?”
Dash placed the scalpel back on the table and turned to look at Vale, a large grin crossing his features, his guarded expression melting. “You wanted to find the Tradesmen, you’ve found ’em.”