Jumping backwards in time a bit:
Some time before the ship reaches the Flow, ibn Fadil sees Alais in the mess-room, and pauses in his work to speak with him. "Have you ever been away from Bral before, Master Zeremin?"
"Well, no, actually. There was talk of sending me to one of those accursed universities, but fortunately I was set at leisure to pursue my own studies."
The half-elf is mildly surprised. "What is wrong with universities?" he asks innocently (but bracing himself for some tirade).
A few days before the ship reaches the limits of the sphere, Lenore passes ibn Fadil in the otherwise empty corridor below deck on her way back to her room. This has happened before, just as accidentally, and as before he politely stands aside to let her pass. But this time, his native curiosity wins out over his native caution: when she has just barely passed him he says, quietly but urgently, "Ginevra!"
She freezes briefly, then takes another step, and he can imagine the helter-skelter of her thoughts, trying to decide what tack to take.
"I don't believe," she says quietly and without turning, "that we have been introduced." Her breath is a bit faster than normal, her shoulders stiff with tension.
"No, of course not, my lady," he says just as quietly. Some of her tension communicates itself to him; belatedly, he remembers that she is not just a mystery for him solve.
"What do you want?" she asks directly.
Ibn Fadil blinks, unsettled. For some reason the simple question reminds him that she must have money, and he does not. For the first time, one possible way out of his predicament occurs to him -- and is almost as quickly dismissed. He is not that desperate. "Merely to satisfy my curiosity," he says in his best neutral tone.
At last she turns to face him. "And?" There is still tension in the question.
Unlike the other men on the ship, he does not try to see through her veil, but merely accepts its presence. "I am sorry I brought it up, my lady," he says, his expression still opaque; her problems are not his problem, and he knows how to keep his distance. Giving her a slight bow, the turns and goes on his way.
On deck, looking out at the stars, ibn Fadil reviews the brief conversation and the thought that occurred to him. It was best not to be friendly to her, he decides; it would be too cruel, should circumstances change. But he really is not that desperate. Not yet.
Meanwhile, Lenore continues on to her small, neat stateroom and tries to calm her racing heart.
_Again? There are too many inquisitive men on this ship... has Theo unmasked me?_ She bolts the door behind her with more than usual care. _No, he has little guile; he would simply confront me, not use others. Perhaps I should speak to him myself.... He'll be furious at being dragged into this, and lied to, but I think at worst he will put me off the ship at some port. Perhaps that would not even be worst, for the trail will be less clear._ She paces the tiny room, longing for a true sky again, and _space_ around her, but those are months away if indeed she will ever see them. _Not yet. I won't tell him yet. And I must be far more careful, here, than I have been.
_I should have brought Lenore with me,_ she realizes ruefully. _And traveled as Aidal myself. But it would have been difficult to explain why both should go, and there is money... without a miracle, it is a long way to travel after Janik._
In response to the captain's question, Alais says, "The delphinid is a creature of the Cetacean bythro, that is, whale-like creatures. They are often found in the company of Great Dreamers: large, magically powerful Cetacean beings. Otherwise, they cruise the flow and often play near spelljammers. Their trilateral bodies are yet another clue that the triangle is a cosmic basic, since it relates to several other species. One of the leading answers to the problem of the Continuity of Life across Wildspace is the Xeron theory, which posits trilateralism as the simplest venue for intelligence-"
He belatedly notices some of the looks the crew are shooting him. " Ahem, yes. Although I lack expertise in the field, I would think that a pod of the size we have just witnessed to be highly unusual. They could all be journeying toward something--perhaps a spawning ground of which astrozoology is unaware--or running away from something.
"We may wish to make preparations in case the latter turns out to be the case."
Theo nods gravely. "We'll do so." He spends a few more silent moments watching the apparently endless stream of creatures in their graceful motion. "Looks like they're clearing out -- Delmar, go down and tell Brother Pham he can proceed at his discretion. Double the watch, and keep a sharp eye out to all sides. Marines on deck until further notice." The mate nods and hurries off to carry out the orders. "I'll log this, and when we get to Janik we can check the records there. Could be that this is some normal migration." His brow remains furrowed, however, and he spends more time than usual on deck that watch, keeping a close eye on everything, much to the discomfort of some of the crew.
Still clutching a damp towel from the galley, ibn Fadil watches the spectacle with a vague alarm whose source he cannot immediately identify. He has to think back many years, to Zakhara, and a hunting trip with the friends of his youth, before an inkling comes to him. Out on the dry plains they had seen a herd of antelope running like a river of hooves and tossing heads, fleeing a pride of lions. He stares downstream, uselessly trying to pierce the phlogiston's murky glow with his gaze.
Val lets out a low whistle of appreciation at the sight before him. He'd only had occasion to see delphinids once before, and that time there was only a small pod of a half dozen or so. This was almost overwhelming. Seeing that the ship had come to a stop, Val approaches Alais but stops when he notices the Captain already talking to him; no need to interrupt.
The _Lazy Cat_ proceeds with caution, but although they pass the occasional straggling delphinid, they see nothing to explain such a large gathering moving with such apparent purpose.
"Have you ever seen anything of the like?" Val asks Pham later on. He hadn't really gotten around to spending much time with the good Brother during their journey, and Val was regretting that more than a little now. "Emmett mentioned your dreams of fire, but have you had any about something like what we saw today?"
Two days later, the lookout voices a sharp warning; there's a deep bed of sluk ahead, a nasty sort of seaweedy plant that can mire a ship badly. Fortunately, its dark blue vines are easily spotted in the rainbow "sea," and the ship continues on her way, giving the stuff a wide berth.
Wearying of the solitude of her cabin, "Lenore" emerges again in time to watch the sluk bed recede into the distance. Once the weed is gone, there is nothing -- no comforting horizon, no sun or stars for the eye to fix itself upon -- and she takes a deep breath and fixes her eyes on the rail, trying to ward off vertigo.
"One grows accustomed to it, in time."
She jumps violently and feels herself flush in embarrassment for having done so. She'd not heard Nyala's approach at all. "Really?" she says somewhat lamely, still feeling flustered and foolish. The woman makes her nervous (a reaction she shares with many of the crew), with her silence and ageless beauty, the way she seems as comfortable in her skin as a cat, and how her bow is never beyond arm's reach. "I -- I suppose one would have to."
After a brief silence, "My brother says you do not eat well. You should take more care."
Now completely taken aback, Lenore stammers for a moment. "That's... that's very kind of him to notice, but really, it's nothing. It will pass, I'm sure."
Arms crossed, Nyala leans on the rail, looking down, and says nothing. Lenore wonders what she knows, or thinks she knows, or suspects. Having secrets is a tiring business, particularly when they do not seem to want to be kept.
"Why are you here?" Lenore asks suddenly, without knowing what moves her to ask. Perhaps only that she is tired of being forever defensive. "On this ship, I mean." The question earns her a faintly surprised glance, or so she thinks -- it is as difficult for her to see others as it is for them to see her, of course.
"My brother wanted to go to Janik. I do not like to be idle, so I accompany him."
This strikes her as less than a complete answer, but she is in no position to press for more lest the courtesy be returned. She concentrates on the phlogiston instead, remembering her last trip -- but that had been a larger ship, and she had traveled as befit one of her family, and she had been secretless and free to speak with the others on board. It had been easy to shut herself away from the disquieting sights outside the ship, and after that there was only Bral. No longer.
After two months of travel together, the ship's small community has settled in as much as it ever will. There is still a small crowd every "day" to watch Hiro practice, but by and large the crew have given up trying to draw out the enigmatic swordsman, and "like getting a word out of Hiro" has become a signifier for any difficult task. Some of the crew remain suspicious of Pham, but others have been disarmed to at least some extent by his soft-spoken and humble demeanor.
Over the past few weeks of watches, Emmett has grown certain that Yestin is watching him. The giff pays careful attention to all of those who were involved in the fight on Bral, but seems to be most interested in the half-man. In the quiet off watches, he can sometimes hear the scratch of a pen from the other cabin, accompanied by an occasional bass sigh that certainly isn't Nyala's.
And the flow rolls on....
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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson