Before leaving the moon:
"No matter," Val continues, ignoring Emmett's shocked look that he would actually advise caution, "he'll look the fool waiting around for us to walk down the _Cat's_ gangplank." A mischievous smile curls Val's lip as he turns to admire the damselfly.
"He's up to something, that one," Emmett mumbles, and then smiles. "And damned if I'm not too." There's something about Victor's overt arrogance that gets the Half Man's gears all out of joint. He decides right then that if Val is planning something against Victor on Bral, he was getting in before the pans were drawn up.
Besides, it could be fun...
Shaking his head slightly, he heads over to Inez, who had not voted as yet to go on the Damselfly. "Hey, Hon. looks like I'm shipping out right soon, and I haven't spent near enough money yet. Wanna help?"
She laughs. "When have you known me to turn down an offer like that?"
"Never. That's why we get along so well -- I've never turned down those offers either! I figure we upgrade to the best hotel in town for the night, hit a bunch of bars and stop doing all this sedentary plotting stuff. Sound like fun?"
"Sounds fantastic. No more plotting for me."
"Great!" There's a brief pause as Emmett lets that gel with his recent decision. "Are you planning on signing on to the new damselfly, or are you taking the _Cat_, or what?"
"Well...." She hesitates. "I've kind of gotten used to the _Cat_. I was hoping for a long-term spot with them if this trip goes well. Pretty though she is, that one," she nods at the new ship, "looks like trouble to me."
She might be right. "Hang on, hon. There's something I need to check." Emmett moves to catch up with the giff before he can leave. "Hey, Yestin!" As the giff starts to turn, Emmett takes one of his loping strides next to him, "Are we rooming together this time out or not?"
"That remains to be decided, friend," he replies. "The days have slipped by and I find myself uncertain of where to go."
The half man recognizes the look of a procrastinator who has just run out of time. "You know where to go." He points to the city of Janik. "In there is a company full of people who have decided to use you, and not recent events, as the guidepost to your people."
He turns the larger giff around and points to the new ship. "Right there is a brand new ship that needs protecting. It's going right to the heart of what's troubling you, and it'll be full of people who like, admire, and respect you.
"It just takes one man to right a wrong, Yestin. You've already started this. Now you have to see it through. And you have friends who'll be there to help."
Yestin stares at him for a moment and then nods. "You speak truly, friend. And I am in your debt once again."
Emmett smiles broadly. "Weeeeeeell, I have a way to repay that. The lovely Inez here," a brief gesture at the lovely Inez, who curtseys neatly, "is going to be going back on the _Cat_, and I'm going to be going back in the new damselfly."
He leans in with a conspiratorial whisper, "Now, I need a roommate who will graciously go on long, courteous patrols during the times when the two ships are linked up in wildspace. Do you think *you* could be such a roommate?"
When giff blush, their purplish-grey skin turns almost black. "Er, of course."
Emmett slaps him on the back. "Excellent. Now Inez and I are going to paint the town on our last night here. At some point, we'll be stopping by the Goose and Barrel. If you're there, I'll buy you a round or two. If not, the money will go to replacing your ink supply." He waves his hook at the giff. "Choose wisely! C'mon, hon, Janik awaits!"
Yestin evidently deems it wiser to leave Emmett and his lady to enjoy their last night in port without potentially inconvenient hangers-on.
Before leaving Janik, Val disguises himself for a visit the markets, looking for information on Victor's sudden departure, but all anyone can tell him is that it was just that: sudden. He'd bought supplies for a long journey and paid a premium for immediate delivery, and then gone.
Of course he kept his ears open for any additional gossip that might prove useful. There's no news of the _Silver Swan_, but a Three Trees ship is said to be a few days late coming in. No doubt the vagaries of wildspace, but people are already mentioning Fang. Its hard to tell if there are more reports of creature migrations, or if the ones he has already heard have grown past recognition over the course of a week (has it only been a week?). He ignores temptation and stays well away from the temple of Hera.
* * *
It takes a little more than a week for everyone aboard the damselfly to get accustomed to the ship. There are shifts to sort out, cabin assignments, close quarters to grow reaccustomed to. Pham and Alais share quarters again, with Emmett, Yestin, and Val taking one of the remaining crew cabins and Nyala, ibn Fadil, and Hiro the other (the latter careful to give them as much privacy as they need).
In the absence of any threat, work is relatively light. Every part of the ship is on a slightly different schedule, given the numbers. Those actually sailing the vessel divide the day into three eight-hour shifts. Emmett works out four six-hour shifts, with each of them spending six on primary watch and six as backup. The two pilots once again work long days, though since there is less urgency in this journey the occasional break is allowed for.
Cooking duties settle out a bit. Alais is hopeless at it, Yestin not so much bad as alien in his tastes. Enough of them are competent enough that no one needs to be stuck with it all the time, although they come to sorely miss Nahele's spice cabinet.
Delmar is reserved as ever. As captain now he watches them all more closely than he did aboard the _Cat_; every couple of weeks the two ships pause and link up so he can talk to Theo and the smaller ship's crew can socialize a bit. The _Cat_ has two new pilots and a full complement of sailors, experienced crew.
Val throws himself into his work as first mate, setting aside all thought of the past in favor of his old devil-may-care attitude when around others. The tight quarters make practicing his old skills something of a challenge. He spends some time pondering what do about Victor, but doesn't let himself worry about too much. Since the man does not appear to have been lying in wait for them to leave Janik, no doubt it will be months before they encounter one another.
Everyone finds their own ways to pass the time. Hiro practices his calligraphy and his swordsmanship. Yestin reads, and works on his poetry. Emmett spends happy hours contemplating the intricate mechanisms that guide the ship, and giving the others enough instruction in the workings of a ballista that in case of attack they might be more help than hindrance.
Ibn Fadil begins teaching Nyala conversational Zakharan and trying to get Alais to produce a coherent explanation of his "conversion" theory. Alais is more than happy, and a few days out puts together a few odds and end to form a podium and beings to declaim to all willing to listen.
He begins with a brief examination of three centuries worth of astrophysics, including Glorzung's Theory of Spherical Trans-ordungmigration and the implications of series helms operation on our concept of the interaction of the quasi-elements and primary elements. Then a necessarily high-level description of Janik's sphere's makeup and distinctive traits thereof. This segues into a rip-roaring connection of flow theory, history of local sphere metacluster, echo samples, mysticism, and elemental dynamics on the organistic and planetary levels, microcosm and macrocosm.
Essentially, Alais has induced that every few thousand millennia, the elemental equilibrium is rearranged. This will happen on a sphere-to-sphere basis, until eventually enough spheres go over that it causes unthinkable changes in the Flow and a transformation of our very idea of reality. The Great Dreamers were fleeing a sphere that had already gone over, and the madman was having visions of the future.
There is, of course, nothing any of them can do about it.
But he has to do some more checking first. This is all very tentative.
"Oh, and all of you should keep me posted on the state of your digestion. It should get worse as things progress. Any questions?"
"Dozens," says ibn Fadil, the only one who has stayed the course. "Beginning with, what madman?"
"The one on Janik, who turned out to be one of Brother Pham's less desirable colleagues," the mage explains. "Since that man's visions and Pham's dreams are so similar, they are obviously related to the same phenomenon."
"I see. Thank you, Master Zheremin. Do you mind if I think about this and ask my other questions later?"
"Not at all." Alais beams at his appreciative student.
Escaping, ibn Fadil buttonholes Emmett and gets a quick overview of the whole dream and madman business. "Worrisome," is all he says at this point.
Over the next few months, he spends a fair amount of time asking the mage more questions and trying to sort out the responses into something resembling logic. He does not, alas, have very much luck.
He is also happy to use the time to learn all he can about the ship, as soon as he gets over the shock of being third in command. Though he's far from expert on the topic, it is clearly a well- and beautifully-made vessel.
For many weeks, the journey is a quiet one. Near Janik's crystal shell the two ships pass a hurwaeti vessel and exchange news, and a few times in the Flow they see a solitary flitter hurrying about some elven business--they do not stop to talk--but that is the only traffic once they are away from the heavily traveled region near the moon itself.
Until the citadel hoves into view. It's a big one, a rough tear-drop shape moving slowly and silently through the Flow. From the extent of the exterior decoration that has been done, seasoned travelers guess that this rock is about half-excavated.* There are lights visible through some of the ports.
While the off-duty crew are wakened, an exchange of messages between tradesman and damselfly takes place.
"Acknowledge that," Delmar tells Val, watching through a spyglass as the _Cat_ raises a series of coded flags. "He'd like us to check it out." Citadels in the Flow can be many things--including home to cheerful, busy dwarven communities. "We might be able to do some business here."
As the damselfly approaches slowly, the citadel raises some flags of its own, spelling out a message of greeting in Common. There is a flattened area at the narrow part of the teardrop, plenty of room for a ship to land. Alais brings the ship in to hover just above the stone, not yet committed to a landing. A hatch opens some distance away, with the sounds of some mechanism at work. A lift rises slowly, bringing a half dozen short, stout figures into view, heavily cloaked and hooded.
"Welcome!" a cheerful dwarfish voice calls over to the ship. "Welcome to _Maija's Tear_, I'm Gorn. Nice ship you got there. Three Trees is always welcome here; where you bound from?"
Delmar leans out the starboard port. "We've come from Janik. Is all well? Your ship is quiet." A citadel ship rings gently with the sound of hammers at all times.
"It's a holiday. Janik? Lovely, lovely, I don't suppose you have any timber you could part with? We're opening some new rooms, and it would be welcome."
"We may be able to help in that." More messages go back and forth. "May I speak to your king?"
"Of course, of course. We look forward to hearing news from other parts of space, I said it's a holiday? perhaps you'd like to join us for a meal while we discuss business? I hear ship fare grows a bit dull after a while, we of course grow our own and it's quite fresh."
"Bring her in," Delmar tells Alais. With the crew assembled on the main deck, he tells them, "Anyone who wishes to come is welcome to. Unless I misremember, we've done some business here before; they're all right sorts, for citadellers." Meaning, for members of a community by nature inward-looking and stratified.
Val frowns to himself, wondering if it's Flow-deprived imagination making him think there is something a bit odd here.
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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson