Friday, October 17, 2014

12: Welcome to Ryyn

Entry 12: Where Felix meets an old friend of Cor's.

                The flight passed quickly despite the ten hours, but that might have been because Felix slept through nine and a half of them. By the time they started their descent through Ryyn's atmosphere, Felix had gotten more sleep then he had in the past week.
                "I almost feel human again." He thought to himself as he took large bites out of the meat filled bun he'd bought from one of the food carts parked outside of the Lauxroo city space port.
                "So who are we waiting for exactly?" Felix asked around a mouthful of Anjou beef. "And don't just say 'an old friend' because you already said that. Gimme some details."
                From the looks of him, Cor hadn't slept as well as Felix on the trip down, but then he'd always hated entering atmo. It could be his static field just hadn't adjusted yet to Ryyn's magnetic field.
                Cor did not answer the human. Felix stared at the back of his head, hoping to catch some sort of sign as to what Cor was so nervous about, but his steel-flecked brown hair was remarkably stoic.
                "He wasn't even this uptight at Zephyr." Felix thought with a frown as he paused, bun halfway to his mouth. "What kind of favor did he call in anyway?"
                Cor sighed and ran a hand against the back of his scalp. "We go way back," he finally said, "served together during the last years of the Long War."
                Felix was glad his mouth wasn't full or he would have choked. "The Long War?" He stuttered. Cor shot him a sharp look and Felix realized he'd yelled. "S'rry," He mumbled, embarrassed. "But wasn't that, like, forty years ago or something?" He looked Cor up and down and raised an eyebrow. "What were you, ten?"
                Cor frowned at him. "No," he drew the word out with sarcasm, "I was yer age." He shrugged. "Well, abouts anyway. Point is a I was a young guy."
                "Oh." Felix said under his breath. It was so hard to judge the aging rates of aliens sometimes. Cor didn't act like an old man (although he did complain about Tori's music a lot) but if he'd been Felix's age when he'd fought in the war then he would have to be somewhere in his sixties now.
                "Maybe he is." Felix thought as he took another bite. "And maybe being sixty is like a human being forty to a Hybridian; no big deal."
                He popped the rest of the bun into his mouth and chewed. "So who were you guys fighting anyway? Those southern folk you keep talking about? Is that why your southern empress married a northern guy?"
                Cor snorted. "No, High King H'ror married Lumineva'dares of the Southern Reaches so they could pool their armies and resources to beat back the real threat; the technovores."
                Felix peered at him, completely lost. "What's a technovore?"
                Cor's face darkened and Felix felt a chill run down his spine. Now he could believe Cor had fought in a war. "Nuthin' you wanna meet." He growled.
                Felix waited for him to say more, but Cor just stood there and stared out at the mossy trees that lined the far side of the wide street, marking the edge of one of Ryyn's expansive swamps. He thought about asking about these 'technovores' that he'd never heard of before, but when he caught sight of Cor's hard expression he suddenly thought better of it.
                He cleared his throat loudly. "So," he hummed, "you and this Mari guy-"
                "Gal." Cor corrected without looking at him.
                Felix blinked, caught off guard. "Huh?"
                Cor actually chuckled, though his eyes were still hard. "Her name's Mari'anna."
                "Oh." Felix said again, and then went on anyway. "She then. The two of you fought together? That's how you know each other?"
                Cor gave a tight nod. "Yep." He pulled up the sleeve on his right shoulder, revealing four sets of parallel lines inked in two pairs on either side of an unfamiliar glyph. "61st Detachment of the Engineering Corp, pride of Ridet."
                Felix processed this. "Well that explains why you can disassemble a laser cutter and put it back together in five minutes."
                Cor gave him a tight grin. "Set a record with that." He admitted.
                Felix nodded, not surprised. He couldn't even do it in five hours and he was considered to have a pretty quick hand. "So why're you so nervous about seeing her again?" He asked with his usual amount of tact.
                Cor's face instantly shut down, leaving no emotion for Felix to interpret.
                "Cor?" Felix tried, but the Hybridian ignored him. Instead he pointed as one of the flat bottomed hovercraft used by the locals pulled up alongside the curb a few yards away. "That's our ride." He said flatly. "Come on. Best not to keep the lady waiting."
                He stalked towards the waiting vehicle with his hands shoved in his pockets. Felix paused just long enough to toss the empty bun wrapper in a nearby trash can before jogging after him.
                Cor was talking through the lowered window when he got there. "-been a long time." He was saying.
                Felix leaned down just in time to see the woman inside nod at Cor, a faintly nervous expression on her face that disappeared behind a neutral mask as soon as she caught sight of him watching.
                "And who is this Althan?" She asked in a low voice for such a small woman.
                "Cause of all my grief." Cor told her as he tried to open the door only to find it locked. "Ya gonna let us in or what?"
                For an old friend, she sure had to think about that for a long time. Felix was just starting to think that maybe this wasn't such a good idea when she finally reached over and popped the door open from the inside.
                "Unlock control's broke." She told them as she leaned back to her side again. "You'll have to let your friend in the back first before you get in."
                In a rather ungainly display, Felix somehow made it into the back seat without banging his head on the inside of the roof more than once. He was still rubbing out what he was sure would be a knot later as Cor sat with a grunt and shut the door. Without a word, the woman put the vehicle into gear and guided it away from the space port, deeper into the emptying streets of Lauxroo.
                Felix sat very still in the back seat as she maneuvered the automobile through the sparse traffic. The air in the vehicle was tense, as if there were a lot of things the Hybridians wanted to say to each other but nothing they were willing to discuss in front of him. Suddenly Felix felt like he was five years old again and his parents were trying not to fight in front of him.
                Unwilling to break the awkward silence himself, Felix inspected their driver instead. She looked about the same age as Cor, with the same stray, gray hairs peppering her otherwise medium brown hair. She was a few inches smaller than Cor, with a slighter build, but still well-built for someone who could easily be a grandmother. She had cut her hair short for a woman – probably to deal with the wet heat of the swampland – so that it was only just long enough to cover the back of her neck, but when she turned her head to check oncoming traffic before turning, Felix caught sight of her secondary skeleton.
                He frowned as the yellow light caught the metallic chord strangely. It looked different than what he'd seen of Cor's, more gray than silver. At first he wondered if maybe it a gender distinction – like how human women had broader hips than human men – but then he saw the scars. They were flecked across the outer skeleton like someone had scratched at it with a key. The longest stretched from the base of her skull all the way across her exposed secondary skeleton before disappearing underneath the collar of her shirt.
                Discomfort twisted in Felix's gut as he wondered what she'd been through to earn those scars. Were they war wounds? Was this why Cor hated technovores so fiercely?
                Mari'anna turned off the paved road onto a dirt track that had been cut into the wetland. Tall trees with heavy, hanging branches lined the road on either side and through their dark brown trunks, Felix glimpsed an oval, green skinned pond off to the left with a surface as smooth as glass. Houses on stilts stood on the far side, their dark wood blending in with the trees standing around them.
                A break appeared in the trees and Mari'anna slowed and turned through it. Felix sat up a little straighter when he saw that the road ended abruptly in the shores of the mossy lake.
                His eyes flicked to Mari'anna's hands as she adjusted several controls on the dashboard and waited as the sound of the engine changed from a background hum to the louder roar of a water vehicle.
                Felix sat back in seat when he realized that this was an amphibious vehicle. "Of course," he chided himself for his momentary concern that she was mad enough at Cor to try and drown the three of them, "it's only practical with as much swampland they have here. Probably cuts down on road costs to the middle of nowhere too."
                Mari'anna pushed the craft forward and they slid over the murky surface of the pond without even a bump as the vehicle picked up the change in the surface beneath it and compensated for the less stable liquid.
                The roar of the engine made talking impractical and some of the tension eased as they realized they weren't expected to say anything. Felix even rolled down his window and leaned his head out to get a better look at their wake so he could gauge what type of duel engine Mari'anna's automobile used.
                "I'd get back in here if I were you." She shouted over the engine noise. "The Snub-Nose Gators are pretty snappy around this time of year."
                Felix pulled his head back in so fast his head spun. Although that might have been the bump he'd gotten earlier starting to affect him.
                They weren't on the water long before Mari'anna slowed and pulled onto the soft bank in front of a wooden house built on stilts like all its neighbors. There was just enough space between the stilts for the hovercraft to fit and Mari'anna slipped through with an efficiency that only came with long years of practice.
                "I got you passage to Carpathia, but they don't leave until the morning." Mari'anna said as she keyed off the vehicle and led the way up to the house. "The Commander's sending someone to meet you there. I'll give you the details before you leave. Don't forget to wipe your feet and leave your shoes in the kitchen. Swamp muck's impossible to get out of the carpet."
                She was so matter of fact about it all that Felix's brain stuttered as she abruptly switched tracks between travel directions to her rules for domestic cleanliness.
                Felix made sure to scrub his feet on the mat outside, afraid to risk the woman's irritation. Obviously she kept a clean house he saw as he struggled with his boots inside the back door. A kitchenette and dining room sat before him, complete with tile floors and a round table with four wooden chairs. No door separated the kitchen from the carpeted living room, giving the house an open feel despite its small size. When Felix finally got his boots off and walked into the living room, he saw that there was a small hall set near the back with one door on one side and two on the other. In front of him, next to the large window overlooking the lake, was the front door with its beveled glass panes.
                "You two'll have to share the spare room." Mari'anna said with her hands on her hips as she surveyed her tidy house. "And the bathroom's there." She pointed to one of the closed doors down the hall. "But other than that just don't make a mess and don't go into the lake. It's nesting season for the gators and the turtles bite."
                Cor snorted. "I fergot how much ya liked the lively critters." He mumbled.
                That almost got a smile out of her.
                "There's red beer in the fridge," she said instead, "and water in the tap. Dinner's at seven. You still like tassian steaks?" She raised an eyebrow at Cor.
                "I don't know what that is." Felix mumbled.
                The Hybridians ignored him. "Sure do." Cor told her as he moved to the fridge and pulled out a dark red, glass bottle. "All the tastes of home."
                Mari'anna shrugged. "It makes it easier." She admitted.
                Felix was staring between the two of them, sensing an undercurrent to the conversation he did not understand. "Makes what easier?" He asked.
                Mari'anna's eyes fixed on him as if she'd just remembered he was there. Her eyes widened, her nostrils flared, and for a second he thought she was having a hard time breathing.
                Her eyes shot to Cor, but he shook his head at her. Apparently this was the right answer. Mari'anna's hands relaxed from their half clenched position on her hips and she abruptly changed the subject.
                "You reek like day old oil." She told them and walked stiffly towards one of the closed doors set farther into the house. "I have some clothes you can borrow while I wash the stink out of yours."
                She yanked open the door to her bedroom and Felix caught a glimpse of the dark room beyond with its single queen sized bed and clothes scattered across it like remnants of a hurricane.
                "Secret messy person." Felix thought as she closed the door sharply behind her. "I guess it's just the rest of the house that needs to pass the approval of company."
                When Mari'anna didn't come out five minutes later, Felix started to get the impression he'd said something very wrong. That and Cor was staring at him like he thought Felix was an idiot.
                "What?" Felix muttered at him. "What'd I say?"
                But Cor just shook his head and wouldn't answer.

< Entry 11.5                                                                                                                                              Entry 13 >

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