Meredith tilted the skull this way and that, gauging the weight of the object inside it, and trying to spot it. Finally it seemed to catch on something, and with a gentle shake came free and slipped out on the base, where the spine would have inserted. Something brown and red, about the size of a large walnut, bounced on the ligniform floor and skittered over toward Jeff. Jeff flinched away from it. Meredith put the skull down on the table and stood up to pick it up, only she couldn’t. The static-suit held her in a sitting position, refusing to bend or move. She tried harder, pressing her muscles against the suit, and heard its tiny servo-motors whine as they opposed her. She considered pushing them to burnout, and then decided against it.
“Jeff?” He looked over at her voice and was clearly surprised to see her still sitting down. “Jeff, my static-suit’s malfunctioned. I need you to do me a favour.”
“I’m not picking that skull up!”
“No, not the skull. The thing on the floor, I need you to cover it with something. Metal, I should think. Have we got a bin in here?” She tried to look around, but the static-suit gripped her neck so that it could form a tight seal with her helmet, and she could only get a sixty-degree angle of turn.
“Uh yeah, I think so,” said Jeff. He looked beside the piano, and then towards the end of it and produced one, a simple black cylinder with a plastic bag acting as a liner. He pulled out some crumpled sheet-music paper and looked at them. “Huh,” he said. “Someone’s known about this piano for a while then.”
“That’s great,” said Meredith, who had thought the same thing. “Can you put the bin over that thing on the floor, please?”
Jeff inverted the bin and put it over the thing. Immediately Meredith shot out of her seat and nearly jumped into the air, and she realised that she’d not stopped tensing against the suit. Jeff looked worried.
“Whatever is under than bin interacts with the static-suit,” she said. “I’ve been unable to move while it could affect my suit. Don’t move that bin until I get back; I need to get out of this suit and get someone from Containment over here. I’m going to lock the door to this room, and if anyone does come in, assume they’re trouble.”
Jeff’s face turned pale, though little red blotches remained in his cheeks. “Shouldn’t I go and get Containment?” he suggested. His hands clenched the sheet music from the bin a little more tightly, and his knuckles whitened.
“No,” said Meredith. “While I’m still in the suit I’m in danger; you’re not. And Containment might not come if you asked them.” It wasn’t meant as a put-down, but she was aware that he’d probably take it that way anyway. But it was also the truth. Jeff was an artist and psychology officer, while she was a Senior pack handler and Excursion Commander, second class. Containment would be more likely to tell Jeff to call security than listen to his story.
Jeff sat down on the bin, and she realised that his hands were trembling.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” she said.