Chapter 11: Session 4 – Tending Tensions
The small crowd that had gathered on deck shouted an incoherent babble of demands led by a middle-aged blonde woman. She wore an expensive, yet tasteless, electric blue and lemon yellow floral print dress. Rudyard stood atop the stage at one end away from the pool trying to calm the mob before him with even, authoritative, tones. His uniform and holstered sidearm were an unsubtle reminder that he was in charge. Lydia kept one eye on proceedings from her seat by the pool, reading a novel. She’d chosen a tight white shirt with red cargo shorts under a pastel yellow blouse worn open to flow around her as she moved. Casual yet stylish.
“Everyone, please,” Rudyard said, finally quieting the crowd. “I’m sorry, I can only take questions one at a time.”
In the silence, the woman in the blue dress outdid her peers in both tenacity and shrillness. “We demand to know what’s going on! We’ve been hovering, doing God knows what, for four days! We didn’t pay for a ‘world cruise’ over the same stretch of jungle!”
“Ma’am,” Rudyard replied calmly, “the ship’s engineers are currently fixing damaged caused by the storm we experienced after leaving Darwin.”
“That doesn’t explain why you, the Captain and the crew have been so evasive whenever we ask where we are,” she snapped back. “And the computer can’t answer us either! I don’t remember there being any jungle this close to Darwin. Heck, I don’t even recognize some of those plants!”
“I understand your concerns. I’m not authorized to give you the full details of what’s happened yet but I promise I’ll go directly from this meeting to talk to the Captain about an official announcement. With luck, you’ll know everything we know by this afternoon.”
“That’s not good enough! Why, I’ve never seen such incompetence…”
Lydia had had enough, stuffing her novel back in her infinity purse as she stormed over to get in the woman’s face. “I’ll thank you to show some respect,” she snapped. “Chief Holt is a veteran and second officer onboard this ship. Everything he does is for the good of the passengers and crew.”
The woman snorted scornfully. “Seriously? There’s only one type of security man on these sorts of vessels. Old men and washed-up has-beens.”
The crack of skin hitting skin reverberated from the glass dome overhead, Lydia’s palm impacting with the woman’s cheek. The crowd was stunned into shocked silence as the woman stared in shock, unable to compute what just happened. “Thank you, Lydia,” Rudyard muttered, stepping between the goddess and the crowd. “Apologies, ma’am, I do understand that tensions are running high at the moment. But there’s no need for this to escalate any further. I promise to stress to Captain Frye that you should be informed as soon as possible.”
Sputtering, the woman finally let herself be led away, so livid she could barely speak. Without its leader, the crowd quickly dispersed into angrily muttering groups.
“That could have gone more smoothly,” Rudyard groaned, giving Lydia a penetrating glare.
“What?” Lydia asked ingenuously, head cocked to one side. “Bitch deserved it.”
Holding his face in one large hand, Rudyard counted to three and took a deep breath. “I’m going to go talk to the Captain. Try to keep yourself out of trouble, please.”
“Sure,” Lydia said, retrieving her novel from her purse as she returned to her seat, continuing as if nothing had happened.
“On second thought,” Rudyard interrupted her, “why don’t you come with me to talk to the Captain. If you’re going to get involved no matter what, you might as well back me up.”
Smirking, Lydia put her book away again and stood up. “You just don’t want to let me out of your sight,” she teased, following as he led her toward the fore of the ship.
“Yes, actually,” Rudyard replied, “at least that way I know when something’s about to explode.”
“How are you feeling?” Captain Frye asked as Aislin eased herself into a chair in the conference room. The demon’s face was bandaged and her eyes were sunken and black.
“Bored,” Aislin sighed. “Bed rest was driving me crazy but I did manage to brush up on the schematics for void engines as well as some theory.”
“Well, at least you’re not actively bleeding from the eyes,” Frye quipped, smirking.
Aislin chuckled. “I did overdo it a bit but the helicopter was too good an asset to lose. What’s the status of the ship and the other passengers?”
“The natives are restless,” Frye said, grimacing. “Rudyard’s defusing a flash mob right now. I’m going to have to tell them something. The energy tethers are holding us firmly to the shard and supplies are still good. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of sticking with this floating plot of land. If anything leads to mutiny amongst this soft-bellied lot, it’ll be rationing. Luckily, the run from Darwin to Okinawa is the longest stretch of the voyage, so we’re well supplied. But if worse comes to worse and we’re stuck out here long term, the sooner we can begin farming the better.”
“I’ve been thinking about that too,” Aislin said, “we’ll need to establish a beachhead and secure it from the local wildlife. I hate to say it but we might have to go out of our way to deal with the more dangerous animals definitively.”
Frye sighed. “Displacer wolves, cockatrice… I feel like I’m in a direct-to-cable monster movie.”
“I know some of my compatriots have introduced certain concepts to humanity through fiction,” Aislin said. “We don’t go founding religions anymore but we do like to meddle in creative exploits.”
“Maybe we should be looking for a random blue police box.”
“I do hope you think more highly of my maturity than that, Captain,” Aislin replied, smirking. “But I won’t say it’s impossible.”
The automatic sliding door opened as Amaya strode through with a spring in her step. “Captain,” she greeted, her grin broadening when she saw Aislin. “Sempai! Glad to see you up and about. Good news, the new environmental control system is installed and fully operational. Nobody’s going to be suffocating to death any time soon.”
“That is good news,” Frye sighed in relief. “Aislin was just suggesting, and I agree, that we need to secure a safe area on the shard below so we won’t have to worry about monster attacks. Additionally, we need the ability to traverse this.” She gestured toward the windows and the grey void beyond.
“Your engineers seem capable of working with advanced tech,” Aislin observed. “I didn’t think humans were this far along. I will have to requisition our smallest engineer, however.”
“Oh? Seems I’m right on cue,” Amaya said, grinning so hard she felt like her face might be stuck.
“There’s my assistant,” the demon said, reaching up to pat the kitsune’s head. “How do you feel like learning more horrible things about the nature of reality? I tell a lie, people will rely on you knowing these things to keep them alive.”
“Bring it on,” Amaya answered cheerfully.
“That’s good to hear,” Frye said, “what do you need from me?”
“We need workspace,” Aislin said, “I was hoping to requisition the engine room. The atmospheric engines are likely to burn out soon enough and our project will be replacing them anyway.”
“Makes sense,” Frye agreed, “you have my permission.”
As Amaya and Aislin were leaving, Lydia and Rudyard arrived at the door. “Oh, hi chief,” Amaya greeted Rudyard. “Atmospheric’s back up. You can breathe easy, literally.”
Rudyard groaned. “How long have you been waiting to use that one?”
“Five or six days,” Amaya quipped. “It was Akiko’s idea!”
It was not, you cheeky liar! Akiko protested.
Looking to Aislin, Rudyard winced. “Wow, you look out of it.”
Lydia punched him lightly on the arm. “That’s not something you tell a lady.”
“Lies,” Aislin quipped.
“Besides, she’s just dealing with corruption right now,” Lydia continued casually.
Rudyard’s gaze immediately snapped up into a hard stare. “Who’s bribing who? What? When? Where? Names. Dates. Now.”
“Woah! Down boy,” Amaya said, patting the much larger security chief on the shoulder. “Corruption is just the term we use for when a psychic overdoes it and hurts themselves. Like when Sempai burned herself teleporting us and got bleeding stigmata of the eyes.”
Taking a deep breath, Rudyard pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just one moment, I need to calm down this rage.”
Aislin smirked, unable to help herself. “Besides, if someone wanted to bribe me, it’d be extremely expensive.”
“Come in,” Captain Frye beckoned, interrupting before more could be said. “How did the meeting with the passengers go?”
They let the door close behind them, Amaya and Aislin staying behind to hear what Rudyard had to say. “We had a… Not really heated but heartfelt discussion with some concerned people. I think I deflected them neatly but we really need to decide what we’re telling the passengers and make an announcement. Soon.”
“I figured as much,” Frye sighed. “We’ll get our story straight and present it to them this afternoon. After that, how would you feel about going hunting?”
“I’d rather not,” Rudyard sighed, “but I was expecting it.”
“Big bad soldier afraid of some animals?” Frye teased.
“The displacer wolf was this tall at the shoulder,” Rudyard said, holding a hand over his head. “This isn’t a question of culling some stray dogs, more like hunting super-dinosaurs with heat-ray vision.”
“We haven’t actually encountered one that can shoot lasers out of its eyes,” Lydia rebuked him. “If you think about it, it’s not an advantage for most animals to ruin their food by setting it on fire. The cockatrice coats people in stone so it can eat them. It’s actually much worse.” Pausing, the goddess pondered for a few moments. “Actually, come to think of it, there’s only been one recorded cockatrice sighting on Earth. What are the chances that there’s another one here on this shard just randomly? Nobody ever did work out where the original cockatrice even came from.”
Aislin raised one eyebrow. “Wow, I knew there was a reason we kept you around.”
“What?” Rudyard asked, looking between the two immortals.
“She’s suggesting that there’s a gate somewhere on this shard,” Aislin said, “a gate that once led to Earth.”
“So we can get home?” Frye asked.
“Don’t count your cockatrice before they’re hatched,” Lydia quipped. “I’m making an assumption and the shard’s very, very old. Chances are if there is a gate, it’ll be non-functional.”
“But it’s a far better start than nothing,” Aislin insisted. “If the machinery exists, it can be repaired or scavenged for our own device. Even then, once we have a gate, finding Earth isn’t a simple matter.”
“We’re getting way ahead of ourselves,” Frye said, getting back to the point. “Reynolds is almost finished translating the language you found down there. Once he’s finished, we’ll mount a scouting operation to assess the threat of the monsters and find a good place for the beachhead. I’ll ask the engineers if they can adapt their energy tether tech to create a force field around the encampment. Until then, we’ve got some disgruntled customers to deal with. Amaya, Aislin, we need those engines.”
“Roger,” Amaya said, saluting before leading her Sempai out the door.
As the door closed, Frye looked to Lydia. “Ma’am, do you think you can explain to the other passengers in layman’s terms what’s really going on?”
“Like we’re lost in the void?” Lydia asked.
“Well, yes, but I was hoping for something a little more detailed. Like what happened during the storm, how we passed through that gate to get to here. What exactly here is, the difficulty in getting home, that sort of thing.”
Lydia nodded. “Oh, yes. Aislin knows more about this sort of thing but I can run through the basics.”
“Good enough,” Rudyard said. “I don’t think our passengers could deal with the full truth from Aislin’s lips.”
“Great, set up the meeting for this afternoon Chief,” the Captain ordered. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Amen to that, ma’am,” Rudyard agreed.
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