Friday, October 3, 2014

10: Flowers on the Floor

Entry 10: Where the apology flowers finally reach their intended recipient.

                Kla returned to the ship yard in the evening when the light of the day had faded to a dusky violet that blended with her own skin. She moved between the different docking stations, enjoying the feel of the coming night on her skin. Most of the wayfarers had already left or were settling down for the night, leaving the avenues of the space port empty and quiet. However, as Kla grew closer to the landing pad where she had left the old cargo hauler earlier in the day, the quiet of the evening was disrupted by the growing rumble of a crowd from up ahead.
                She flipped one of her dull green head spines over her shoulder and frowned as she grew closer to the noise.  At the end of the narrow space between one raised landing pad and another, she saw a light coming from around the corner, one that brightened and dimmed in the familiar rhythm of the emergency vehicle that was now standard across the whole Oshi system. Kla walked a little faster, unease tightening her chest.
                She came out from between the raised platforms occupied by mid-sized haulers like the Helix 7 just in time for the light to flare right into her eyes. She flinched back with a growl and shielded her eyes with a hand, but she'd already seen more than enough. The light belonged to the local fire responder hired on by the station to deal with the constant threat of inferno that so much fuel and combustible material in one place presented. It and the vehicle's sirens had drawn the crowd clustered a reasonable distance from the Helix 7's open boarding ramp.
                Kla cleared her vision and frowned at the little scene before her. Obviously something had gone wrong. But until she knew what, exactly, it was best not to react. For all she knew the Helix had just spontaneously combusted in the last hour and nothing more.
                "I wouldn't be surprised." Kla thought as she strode forward with long, but even steps. "That rusted hunk of metal should've been scrapped ten years ago. Twenty years ago."
                She scoffed as she reached the edge of the crowd and began to wind her way between the various beings, half listening to their chatter as she passed. Torrik was too attached to the aging cargo hauler by far and he would've been in a lot less trouble if he'd left it to the scrap yard.
                Barriers had been set up around Torrik's ship by the fire brigade, keeping the crowd back and forcing Kla to a stop. The fire fighters themselves were busy gathering up their gear on the other side, near their vehicle, so Kla had to assume that whatever fire had broken out had already been contained and extinguished.
                She rested her long fingered hands on the glowing barrier and watched the muffled activity around the Helix itself. A cold feeling had settled in her stomach, one she couldn't shake and had nothing to do with the dying warmth of the Selenium sun.
                Torrik appeared down the boarding ramp, the space port fire marshal walking next to him. Torrik appeared just as neutral as he generally did, with his hands clasped at the small of his back, just above his tail. His jacket was too dark for Kla to tell if it was discolored, but there were smudges of soot on his brass buttons and the gold cord of the epaulettes. Either the soot had made its way into the ventilation system and spread throughout the ship or Torrik had been close enough to the flames to walk right through the smoke.
                The fire marshal stopped at the base of the ramp, Torrik following his lead. Kla watched as the gray-haired human asked Torrik questions and wrote out his answers on a digital clipboard he'd brought with him.
                They would be awhile, she decided, giving her time to conduct an interview of her own. She turned to the being next to her – a mechlan wearing the practical, darkly colored outfit of a career star crawler.
                No guile was needed now. "What happened here?" She asked the short male. He barely came to her shoulder, even now that she had discarded her heels for her favorite pair of flats, and he was covered in dark brown fur except for a heart shaped area on his face that was tawny colored. A patch of fur on his shoulder had been burned out in the shape of a Lithonian star, a tattoo that had no meaning to Kla but must have meant something to its bearer.
                The mechlan shrugged one brawny shoulder but kept his arms crossed over his well-muscled chest. "Fire broke out." He told her unhelpfully. "Something must have lit up in the lower decks. Never saw any flames myself, just smoke billowin' out of the hold."
                He gestured one padded hand at the Helix's open portal and for the first time Kla noticed the trails of smoke the fire had left behind. They were hard to see, they blended in so well with the ship's dark hull, but Torrik had painted a Skalorian hieroglyph of fortune across the back of the ship in pastel green and parts of it were now a dismal gray where the smoke had touched it.
                "Was anyone hurt?" Kla asked the mechlan, putting a touch of concern into her voice. Not much was needed. The people that flocked to these kinds of displays were generally possessed more of a morbid curiosity than actual concern.
                "Don't think so." The star crawler told her and then leaned over to spit on the dusty ground on the other side of the barrier. "Didn't see any ambulances at least. I heard the captain say that most of the crew was on shore leave when it happened and those that stayed were all in the upper levels." He nudged her in the side with a furry elbow, making Kla sway as her eyebrows rose indignantly at the sudden contact. "Good thing her emergency systems caught it before it ate up anything important, huh? I wouldn't have figured a bird that old still had it in her."
                Kla snorted a she rubbed at her side where the mechlan had prodded her. "Tell me about it." She murmured darkly.
                The fire marshal was shaking Torrik's claw now, and then he turned to his men and signaled them to load up the barriers before they headed back to their station to finish up their paper trail there. Behind her, the crowd started to dissipate, the spectacle over.
                Kla waited for one of the fire responders to deactivate the barrier in front of her and take it away before she stalked over to where Torrik stood at the bottom of the ramp with his head craned back so he could take in the soot streaks marring his precious Helix 7.
                "You look remarkably calm for someone who's ship just burned." Kla remarked in a low voice as she joined Torrik before the ship.
                "It was a small fire." Torrik told her calmly. "Only part of her burned and it was contained to the lower decks. It could have been much worse."
                Kla slid him a poisonous glance but didn't face him. From the outside, she was just a concerned bystander expressing her regrets to the captain. "However..." she pressed, knowing there was more.
                Torrik's reptilian face might have looked unreadable to most folks, but Kla had spent years learning how to decode the expressions of different peoples, humanoid and otherwise. It was a handy side effect of standing behind Caladry O'Dowell's shoulder and watching as he did business with one unfortunate soul after another.
                And as Kla watched the Skalorian captain, she saw the relief on his scaly face as he told her, "I'm sorry to say Ms. Kla, but one of the rooms ravaged by the fire was Cauldwell's workroom. The fire marshal believes it must have been the point of origin, given the fact that it received the worst of the damage."
                Kla ground her teeth together. "You burned it?!" She hissed, unable and unwilling to unclench her jaw.
                Torrik's black eyes shot towards her in surprise. "I? Stars no! The marshal found the remains of a cheap cigar amongst the remains. With all that outmoded paper cluttering up the room, he thinks that's what started the fire. It wasn't Felix's, obviously – the boy would cut his finger off before he managed to cut a cigar – however that Hybridian that hung around him smoked on occasion and they sell those cheap cigars at those beach side huts." He flapped a clawed hand vaguely in the direction of the beach with a grimace. "Undoubtedly that's where it came from."
                Kla was glaring at him outright now as she fumed. "And I'm supposed to believe you just let this happen?"
                Torrik refused to meet her hot gaze. "It was an accident Ms. Kla. I've been told they happen from time to time." His tongue flicked out as he hissed a near silent laugh. "And it's not exactly the first time Cauldwell's work spontaneously burst into flames. I'm just relieved he removed the hydrogen gas when I told him to or we would've lost a lot more than paper."
                He gave an abrupt hiss as Kla viciously yanked him down to her eye level. "That wasn't just paper you fool!" She shouted in his face.
                A fire fighter who'd been packing up the last of the equipment a few feet behind them stopped what he was doing and stared at them. Kla slanted him a look and then, reluctantly, let go of the captain's jacket collar. Torrik straightened his jacket and nodded at the fireman. "Her divorce certificate went up in the fire." He told the man as he straightened his hat. "I think she's taking it rather well."
                The fireman took in Kla's rigid body language and her burning eyes that threatened to crisp anyone that came too close. Then he turned to the captain and raised his eyebrows in a look that said quite clearly that he didn't need to know why the marriage had fallen apart.
                "That paper," Kla hissed between her teeth as the fire fighter walked back to his truck, "was going to set you free and you let it burn like it was trash you ungrateful slithering star crawler."
                Torrik adjusted his hat with a muttered, "Like I've never heard that one before."
                Kla was too furious to even hear him. "Where's the boy?" She demanded. "Or did you thrown him in the fire as well?"
                A hint of victory appeared in the skin around Torrik's eyes as he turned to her. "Ah, yes, Mr. Cauldwell." He hemmed. "I'm afraid I had to let him go."
                Now Kla was truly shocked. "You what?"
                "I fired him." Torrik repeated calmly. "As interesting as he was, he just couldn't handle all the aspects of the job. I mean he was brilliant with machines, but absolutely terrible with people. Froze up around them all the time. The last time I asked him to fix a glitching door in the passenger quarter, he turned right around and buried himself in the engine. Quite unacceptable."
                "You idiot!" Kla wanted to scream, but the dregs of self control that still remained held her back. Instead she smoothed her head spines, adjusted the cover-up that hid her bathing suit so that it hung off one shoulder, and schooled her face in the uncaring mask that she had so painstakingly mastered.
                "So tell me Captain," Kla murmured when her voice would once again obey her, "did you always plan to go back on our deal or was the boy just exceedingly convincing?"
                Torrik fidgeted and briefly looked down at the ground before up at his ship again. "He convinced me of nothing." He insisted. "He and Cor bolted before I could catch them."
                Kla didn't believe a word of it. She reached up with a delicate hand and gripped the captain's shoulder with surprising strength. She shook him slowly, mindful of the emergency response truck still parked behind them, and forced herself to laugh. "Oh you poor, simple creature," she said lightly, "you were so close to being your own lizard again. All you had to do was keep your scaly mouth shut, but you couldn't even do that."
                She stopped shaking him back and forth but didn't release his shoulder just yet. "Well guess what?" She murmured as she leaned in close. "You're going to get exactly what you wanted. From this moment on, you'll never have to work for us ever again. Just like you'll never have to work for anyone ever again either." She applied pressure to his shoulder, digging into the soft spot below his scapula with her thumb. "I'd find a new line of work if I were you Torrik," she told him icily, "because whatever contracts you had with reputable companies just went up in smoke with those Cauldwell's equations."
                Both Kla and Torrik looked up at the anxious voice. That blonde Earth girl was standing there – the one that was always trying to get Cauldwell's attention. She was watching them with wide, worried eyes and tightly holding a sand covered beach bag in one hand. Her hair looked brittle in its damp braid and despite the band t-shirt covering her top, Kla could still see she was wearing swimming shorts instead of any kind of half-decent beach wear.
                Kla resisted the urge to roll her eyes just looking at the girl. Honestly, what did that boy see in her?
                Tori's eyes flicked from Kla to Torrik to the fire vehicle behind them as the driver started the engine and began to pull away from the docking pad. "Is, um, is everything all right?" She finally asked.
                Kla shot Torrik an icy look before letting go of his shoulder with a slight shove. While he recovered his balance, Kla turned and smiled at the human girl. "Yes, fine. We were just finishing up our final business together, weren't we Captain?"
                Torrik barely managed to hiss a mumbled, "Yesss..."
                Kla paid him no mind. "Well you enjoy your next journey Captain. I'm sure it will be shorter than you expect." She said as she walked away. Before she got too far however, she made sure to shout back over her shoulder, "Oh, and when I catch up to dear Felix I'll be sure to tell him know who he has to thank for his new position at D&S Industries. Bye now!"
                She waved a hand at them without looking back. The breeze off the ocean was rather chill now that the sun had disappeared into the ocean and she was starting to feel cold in her two piece swimsuit and flimsy cover up.
                "I might as well stop by the main office and find out where dear little Cauldwell ran off to before I head back to my hotel."Kla thought as she left Torrik and his confused pilot behind for good. "I'm already dressed for the occasion after all."
                The last of the daylight dimmed and faded into the thick shadow of night. It must have seemed impossibly dark to the human and the Skalorian, but Kla had better eyes and had no trouble making her way through the zigzagging space port avenues. She could hear the electric hum of electricity being diverted to the lamps bolted to their posts over her head, but it took the old equipment time to build up enough power for the lights to work. And in that bare second of total darkness, Kla smiled.
                "Run as fast as you can Earth-boy," she thought, "you still can't outrun me."


                Tori watched the purple-skinned Moraloran leave as the overhead lamps of the space port turned on for the night with electronic thunks as old machinery kicked on.
                "I do not like that woman." She muttered more to herself than anyone else. She wasn't sure if Captain Torrik had heard her, but even if he had he remained silent. Tori looked over and saw that he was watching the ground, one hand pressed flat against the Helix 7's hull to keep his slumped body upright.
                Tori frowned at the captain in concern. "Are you 0kay Captain?" She asked him nervously. She hadn't been certain when she'd first seen him talking with that woman, but she had thought they were arguing over something. She didn't want to pry of course, but if something was wrong and she could somehow help...
                Torrik pulled himself upright and dragged his mind away from whatever it had been focused on. "Yes," he answered slowly, "yes I'm perfectly fine Ms. Addison. Perfectly fine."
                "That's an awful lot of 'fines'." Tori thought, but felt it wasn't her place to say that to her employer.
                Instead she jerked a thumb over her shoulder where Kla had disappeared into the night. "What was that she was saying about catching up with Felix?" She asked, feeling her eyebrows twitch closer together in a mild scowl at the thought of that woman doing anything with Felix. "Are they planning to stay in touch or something?"
                Torrik looked away. "Not quite." He mumbled softly. And then feeling Tori's questioning gaze on his skin, he added, "I'm afraid Mr. Cauldwell and Cor'althan are no longer with us after this incident," he waved a vague hand in the direction the fire vehicle had gone. "I believe Ms. Kla wished to offer them a position with her own company before they got too far."
                Tori barely heard anything after 'no longer with us'. "Felix and Cor are gone?" She gasped. "But-but why?"
                Torrik turned away and wouldn't look at her. "They set my ship on fire again." He told her. "It was the last straw."
                Tori stared at him. She had three younger siblings and if they had taught her anything, it was how to spot a lie of omission. Felix may had set fire to something (again) but that wasn't the whole story. And why would the Captain fire Cor for something Felix had done?
                "But-” she tried, "what happened? Where are they going to go-”
                "It doessn't matter!" Torrik suddenly snapped at her. "Now get to the cockpit before I dessside to leave you here with them!"
                Tori rocked back a step at the vehemence in his distorted words. This wasn't Captain Torrik. Captain Torrik didn't shout at people for asking questions. Captain Torrik didn't fire people for things that weren't their fault.
                Too scared to speak, Tori watching the Skalorian with wide eyes as he hung his head and rubbed at the spot above his eye with a clawed hand. "My apologies, Ms. Addison." He said in a voice barely above a whisper. "It has been...a hard day. Please," he indicated the lowered boarding ramp, "come aboard. Everyone else is already here. Once you are changed and presentable, we will lift off for Coriolus."
                He stood there a moment, hand extended towards the ramp, and waited for her to precede him. But when Tori refused to move, Torrik let his hand drop and made his way up the ramp at a weary pace.
                Tori watched him go, still clutching her beach bag to her chest with both hands. She'd gotten sand all down her front to match the itchy coating on her feet and ankles.
                Inside her mind was still reeling. Something was wrong. Something to do with that woman, she had no doubt. The purple-skinned femme wreaked of trouble, but it was nothing that Tori could ever put a finger on. And Felix-
                Tori felt her heart just about stop. Felix! Where was he? How could he just leave like this? Even if Torrik really had fired him, well he still wouldn't have left without saying goodbye! And what about his things? The fire had only just happened. Why hadn't Torrik given Felix and Cor time to collect their things?
                Tori shuffled up the boarding ramp in a state of shock only to stop as something crunched under her foot at the top. The unexpected sound shook her out of her thoughts and she looked down. In the shadow of the ship it was difficult to make the object out, but as Tori leaned down to pick it up, she saw that it was a crinkled mass of dark blue paper wrapped around a handful of flowers.
                They were Aviciian Asters she realized – her favorite – surrounded by small, white daisies. They'd been stepped on and abused; daisy petals were scattered all over the floor in little clouds and the asters' deep violet petals had faded to a dim indigo in the heat. They looked sad and broken lying there in the deep shadow of the ship outside the ring of orange light emitted by the lamps.
                Gingerly, Tori picked them up. The blue paper surrounding the stems crackled at her touch and the twine tying it all together felt rough on her dried out skin. She turned the bouquet around, careful to not disturb the loose petals anymore than she had to, and finally noticed the card when one of the broken stems flopped over as she twisted the bouquet around.
                She picked it up and held it under the light so she could read it. The messy scrawl was hard to make out, but familiar.

                Sorry I'm such a jerk. I'll make it up to you soon.


                Tori looked up from the card, even more confused than before. What was going on here? Felix couldn't really be gone. He loved this ship! He loved tinkering with its ancient wiring and squirreling himself away in his workroom to think when he had the time- and sometimes even when he didn't.
                Why hadn't he said goodbye? Surely he would have waited long enough for her to come back so he could say goodbye. Wasn't their friendship worth even that little gesture?
                "Felix would have said goodbye." Tori told herself. "So that means-that just means that this isn't the last time we'll see each other. He'll come back. Soon. Felix said soon on his card so it'll be soon. He and Cor know our scheduled stops for the next month and a half. Why, I bet they're already halfway to the next port. I'll see them again before I even know it."
                Trying to ignore the little voice telling her she was only deluding herself, Tori sealed up the entrance ramp behind her and went to put her flowers in some water before take-off. Felix would keep his promise, she told herself as she bit her lip to keep it from trembling. He would.

                But it was a long, long time before they saw each other again.

< Entry 9                                                                                                                                                  Entry 11 >

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