Wednesday, June 24, 2015

30: Aboard the Windjammer


Entry 030: Where Felix faces his trust issues and Cor discusses what comes next.


                 Felix was still in a state of shock five days later when they reached their intended system. He'd spent most of that journey in the bunk room they'd given him, trying to assimilate everything that had happened to him and not getting anywhere with it at all. It might have helped if he'd been able to talk with Cor or had a chance to keep his hands and mind busy, but Cor spent the flight recuperating. As for work...O'Dowell had taken his last surviving notebook and Felix hadn't wanted to approach Au'relia long enough to ask her for some kind of workspace. That and, much as he hated to admit it, his focus was pretty much shot anyway.
                He was lying on his bunk, staring up at the twin glow panels that lit the small room with something resembling natural light, when he felt the hyperdrive power down and the ship drop back down to sub-light speeds. The faint whine on the edge of his hearing faded away for the first time in almost twelve hours and he felt his entire body, inside and out, shift a few inches to the left as if he had been stretched out when they surpassed the speed of light and only now had he finally caught up with himself.
                He shook off the disorientation and swung his long legs over the side of the bunk, the shift bringing him up to a sitting position. He sat there a few minutes, hands gripping the edge of the metal bunk that held the surprisingly comfortable bedding. He could just stay here, he told himself. So they had reduced speed after hopping along three different course headings to throw off pursuit before finally settling on this one. Big deal. Either they were where they were supposed to be or they had been stopped by red and black clad forces yet again. It wasn't like he would change anything by poking his nose out of his bolt-hole.
                Felix sighed, knowing all this to be true. And yet his natural curiosity still overpowered him and he found himself rising to his feet to see where they were now.
                He almost ran nose-first into Au'relia the moment he stepped out the door. He came up short just in time to avoid a collision, but not the hard stare she shot him as the door slid soundlessly shut behind him, cutting off his escape.
                He thought about attempting to pass through the metal anyway. Even over the short course of their trip, he'd found the easiest way to clear a corridor was to ask the commanding, demanding femme to meet him at the far end.
                Her hazel eyes switched from Felix to the closed door and he resisted the absurd urge to raise his hands above his head. She was a hard woman, not homicidal.
                "Nice to see you out of hiding," she commented as she started off down the corridor again at a brisk pace. Felix had to stretch his legs to keep up.
                "Was all that sarcasm really necessary?" he asked behind her shoulder. The corridor wasn't wide enough for the two of them to walk side by side.
                Again she shot him a sharp look. "That wasn't sarcasm," she grunted, turning toward the bow of the shuttle.
                "Was for you," Felix mumbled and then before she could reply added, "I felt the engines slack off. Are we there?"
                Au'relia paused the base handful of seconds it took for the door barring their path to vanish into the neighboring wall before taking off again. They were leaving the crew quarters now and entering the long observation room that separated the small command room from the rest of the shuttle. Chairs were clustered in groups of four next to the two matching angular windows that sliced down the walls like streamers, two groups on either side of the narrow walkway. They were all vacant except for one. Cor was sitting down at the far end, his head propped up on a fist, either sleeping or trying to sleep.
                "We're in the final planetary system, yes," Au'relia answered Felix in a lower tone, although Felix noted she did not say which planetary system that was. "We'll be at the rendezvous in twenty cycles. Though if Rody's on time for once I will keel over from shock."
                She muttered that last where Felix had a hard time hearing it. "What was that?"
                But his host only gave a tight sigh and shook her head, dislodging one bright yellow curl of hair. "Nothing. Never mind," she told him quickly as she flicked it away from her line of sight. "Look, we're almost there so just...sit by the window and shout if you see anything out of place."
                Felix stopped in the aisle between the chairs. "Define out of place."
                Her sigh was louder this time and held a great deal more of her fraying temper.
                "A freakin' big ship that looks like a swan being ordered about by a man with no ambition. How about that?" she snapped, angry sparks starting to fizzle around her head, making her long hair frizz. Her field didn't pop like Cor's, but it did burn the air around her, making Felix gag on the fresh tang of ozone.
                He held up his hands and took a step back, as much to get away from the smell as show her he hadn't meant to pry. Au'relia didn't look mollified. Instead she glowered at him until he took another step back and planted his backside in one of the cushy observation chairs. When she was satisfied, the blonde Hybridian keyed open the door to the command room and stepped inside.
                "Yeesh, what's her problem?" Felix muttered.
                Cor roused slightly in the chair facing him. He was still incredibly pale under his tan and he had dark bags under his eyes, like bruises that wouldn't fade. His field was still sluggish and withdrawn, much like the rest of him, and despite all this it was still the best he'd looked since they'd got to Terrace.
                "What's whose problem?" he asked, his words slurred from near-sleep.
                "No one," Felix said with a frown. They'd run Cor through the med scanner as soon as they'd gotten him on board, but he would feel a whole lot better once a real flesh and blood medic with a thousand credit hours of doctor classes crammed into his or her head gave Cor the once over.
                "There had better be one wherever we're headed. And a dang good one at that." Of course Au'relia had promised that there would be, and that Cor would be seen as soon as it was physically possible to get him there, but Felix was having a hard time taking her solely at her word just now.
                He frowned hard at the slush of stars slowly passing by through the window next to him. "This is stupid," he grumbled, feeling snappish. "What's with all these windows on a shuttle anyway? Don't they know that space craft with any kind of view pane is thirty point twenty-eight percent more likely to be exposed to vacuum?"
                "Not real windows," Cor mumbled with his eyes closed. "Just viewing screens made ta look like windows. There's still four feet of hull twixt us and the void, so keep yer socks on."
                Felix shrunk down in his chair in a sulk. He hadn't known that. "Okay, fine, but why have anything to show what's outside at all? All you really need to fly is a main viewport to see where you're going and then you let all those sensor-thingies take care of the rest."
                Cor huffed a laugh that made his whole upper body jump. "You're flight know-how is astoundin'," he muttered with a weary grin.
                Felix frowned mildly at him. "Like you know so much more."
                The old Hybridian chuckled, not put off by the reminder, and then leaned his head back against the headrest and opened his eyes halfway. He rested his hands on his knees, looking worse rather than better. Felix wanted to insist that he go lie down somewhere quiet, but it wasn't exactly noisy out here and it would take even more effort on Cor's part to get back to his bunk, so what was the point?
                If Cor was aware of the younger man's concern, he didn't let it bother him. "The Persephone was originally designed as an observation vessel, made fer explorin' an' such. That's why e'en the shuttles have windows," he finally explained.
                Felix took this in. "Well at least there's a reason," he told himself.
                "How'd you know that?" he directed at Cor.
                Cor gave a tiny shrug of his shoulders. "E'rybody knows that. Just like e'rybody knows the name Oritrix or Hybrida."
                Felix just stared at him pointedly.
                The older man grinned again, the expression still tighter than usual. "Well, e'rybody 'cept you." He tilted his head back towards the door that hid the other three Hybridians. "Ori'astorum; lond hand, Astorum Oritrix. He's the High Steward's son, which goes a fair way of explainin' why he's here. Lots of high'n'mighty opportunities fer one so young."
                He didn't sound resentful at the fact like Felix would expect between the upper class and...well, whatever Cor thought he was. It was just a statement; a fact that explained the presence of a teenager on a rescue that had more twists in it than a sidewinder.
                "Is that a...bad thing?" Felix hesitated to ask.
                Cor shrugged one shoulder. "More opportunities so he can learn to cope with more responsibility. As long as he takes it all seriously and looks after people like his folks an' uncle have, I say let him have it. Ghost knows I certainly don't want ta be lookin' after all them people." He slit his eyes open and peered at Felix. One corner of his mouth twitched up. "Ah can barely keep up with you." He chuckled.
                Felix's mouth thinned as his temper soured. "It's not like anyone asked you to keep an eye on me," he grumbled, feeling like a little kid and hating it.
                "True 'nuff," Cor admitted as he closed his eye again and tried to relax.
                Felix found he couldn't. He tried – like he had tried for the past five days – but no amount of star watching or silence had brought him any amount of peace of mind.
                He fidgeted, trying to rid himself of his restlessness to no success. "Don't ask," he kept telling himself. "Knowing won't make you happy so just stare out the fake window at the pretty stars and keep your mouth shut."
                But again his own innate desire to know proved too strong to resist and the question that had kept him up the past four nights climbed over his teeth and jumped out his mouth without permission.
                "What happens to us now?"
                Cor grunted, air gusting out his broad nose as he opened his eyes and fixed Felix with a dull stare. "At least he's taking this seriously." Sometimes Felix wondered.
                "We're going to talk with the Commander," he explained bluntly. "Unfortunately the only thing we got worth trading for protection is your work, but it sounds like he has a pretty different idea on what 'reasonable' is, so this won't be like workin' with O'Dowell."
                Something itched at Felix's brain. "And how does he know about my work at all?"
                Cor looked away and fidgeted, making Felix's nagging itch stronger. "Cor-” he said warningly.
                "I contacted him at Zephyr Station through Mari'anna," Cor admitted. "I had ta tell him about your equation so he'd know how dangerous it would be if someone like Kla or O'Dowell-”
                "You what?" Felix felt his eyes widen to the size of golf balls as his heart slammed into the roof of his mouth.
                Cor flinched and held up his hands, palms out. "Easy," he whispered with a concerned look at the door behind them. "I was worried-"
                "You had no right!" Felix jabbed a finger at his friend. "If you weren't already beat up I'd kick your circuit board!"
                Cor shot him a flat look that said he'd like to see him try. "You saw what lengths they're willin' to go to-”
                "But you didn't know that then!" Felix protested in a harsh whisper. "I can't believe this," he muttered to himself before glaring daggers at Cor. "That wasn't yours to sell!"
                Cor scowled at him."I sold nuthin' and Ah made that very clear to them. As for not knowin' what Kla would do to ya...I had a pretty good idea. She's not the first o' her kind Ah've come 'cross."
                Felix shoved both hands through his dark hair and hung his head over his knees. "But you know how I felt about this – how I still feel, I might add – and you just told some stranger without even warning me first?"
                Cor was anything but sorry. "A stranger that saved your life and has the power ta keep you and yer blasted work safe. And since I know what yer thinkin'- yeah. I'd do it again. Without his help, we'd still be bakin' in that hot box with no way out."
                Felix stared at the toes of his boots, hands still in his hair. They were beaten and battered, worn nearly gray after being scrubbed down by all that abrasive sand. He felt more than a little sand-worn himself; his feet were chafed and blistered, his muscles still sore from all that running, climbing, and falling, not to mention the lingering sunburn...
                But scrap if Cor wasn't right. Kla had found them without any help from the Hybridians. Well, Cor's Hybridians anyway. Darl'markins was just a rat.
                Felix released a deep, tight breath of air, letting it take all his arguments with it. But his frustrations remained.
                "This is scrap." He finally pulled his hands away from his scalp and clasped them together in the air in front of him. He watched them as he spoke, cataloguing the different healing scrapes and calluses he'd picked up along the way. "All I wanted to do was make something...great. I didn't want to be just another dysfunctional prodigy from Earth and look where it got me."
                "I wouldn't worry 'bout that." Cor huffed a laugh. "Yer definitely the anomaly there. What other prodigies you know of that come from Earth?"
                Felix ignored his ribbing as he flexed the fingers on his left hand, wincing when he stretched the patches of pink skin on his ring and middle fingers. "I was just getting used to the idea," he said in a low voice. "Back on the Helix 7 after I found Kla wandering around my workroom. I was just starting to get used to the idea of having to work with someone else when all this happened." He flung up a hand at the sleek, modern lines of the shuttle encasing them, at the too-comfortable chairs and the foreign stars. "But no matter how long I thought, I couldn't think of anyone I knew of who would do it right."
                Cor watched him with half lidded eyes. "What d'you mean?"
                Felix shrugged. "You know just, someone who wouldn't abuse the idea. Someone who has enough money to fund it, but doesn't really want more."
                He was perfectly serious. Maybe that was why Cor laughed so hard, a deep, hoarse sound that quickly dissolved into a chest-deep cough that prevented him from speaking.
                Felix frowned at him, dark eyebrows hanging low over his eyes. "What' s so funny about that?" he demanded.
                Cor was still gripped in his laughing-hacking fit and he waved a hand at him to make him stop. "Nuthin'." He managed to get himself enough under control to get the words out. "It's not funny. I just – heh heh – I just fergot how young y'are for a nano."
                Felix's frown deepened into an all out scowl. "Don't see what my age has got to do with anything..." he muttered under his breath, the corners of his mouth turned distinctly down.
                That didn't stop Cor from grinning at him like he was a naive little kid. "All companies want to make money, Felix. That's why they're called businesses. If they weren't worried about profits they'd be callin' 'em charities. But that's not yer problem."
                Felix looked up at him sideways. "It's not?" It wasn't so much a question as a baited hook.
                "No," Cor rolled his eyes like he was being dense on purpose, "it's not. You said it yerself you want to be someone great. You want yer name in textbooks and scientific journals. Ya want people ta remember you. Most folks do, but unlike them you've got a half decent shot, if not as the man that changed the space lanes, then at least as a pretty memorable flop."
                Felix's mouth thinned. "Gee, thanks."
                Cor ignored him. "And yer afraid that if you let someone else in on this big ol' secret formula a'yours, they'll steal it right out from under ya, like Redford did with your gravity theorems. And yer so bashful that you just don't know enough people to realize that they're not all like that. The most a guy like you can do is find someone ya trust. You find that someone," he skewered Felix with an eye and jabbed his index finger at him for emphasis, "and that's who ya work with."
                He settled back in his chair as if that was the end of it, but Felix still frowned. He made it sound so easy, the human thought as he stared at the high quality screen next to him with stern eyes. The image was so fine that if not for the faint high pitched whine of electronics in his ear, he wouldn't have known it was a monitor at all.
                "Well I don't trust them." He finally turned away from the window to frown at the door over Cor's shoulder instead. "At least not entirely. But I trust you, and-" He had to drag the words into existence. "-if you think they're the best ones to go to, then I'll listen."
                The air around Cor relaxed just a little as his static field lost some of its tension and Felix realized with surprise that the old man was relieved. He really hadn't known what Felix was going to say.
                Of course it was then that he realized Cor might have worried Felix would suspect him of his own manipulations, trying to get his work under the power of the Hybridian armed forces.
                "Ridiculous," Felix dismissed the thought easily in spite of the rational evidence that could be used to support it. Aside from the fact that Cor had had ample opportunity on the Helix 7 to take what he wanted from Felix's workroom, Felix had meant what he'd said. He did trust Cor, even when he had a hard time understanding anything he did.
                "Good," Cor told him in as close to his own admission of trust as the old man came. "Ya know I've been lots of places since I left Hybridia, made a lotta friends with a lotta different folks. I want ya to know that if I thought any of them could help ya better than the Commander, I woulda called them."
                Felix looked over at him. "Yeah, I know."
                So much honesty was exhausting and Felix found himself staring out the window again in an effort to ignore the slight awkwardness that had appeared. If he hadn't, he would have missed the ripple of disturbed light that marked a ship's descent from hyperspace. There was a flicker of transparent gray-white metal, like an overlarge ghost, and then the real ship appeared a few hundred miles ahead, almost before the ghost had vanished.
                Felix squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed at them over his eyelids. Ghost images were common enough as the hyperdrive slowed the ship in incremental bursts so as not to come to a jarring, possibly fatal, full stop, but they still gave him a headache when he saw them.
                He opened his eyes only when he was sure the ship had had enough time to revert back to real space before turning to get a better look at the new arrival.
                And stars, what a ship it was. Felix had always heard that Hybridian ships were a perfect balance between the beautiful and the functional but this...this was metal come alive.
                It really did look like a swan, in a borderline abstract, tilt-your-head-and-squint sort of way. The main body was deep and long, almost like an egg, that tapered down to a slender point that formed the 'tail'. The 'wings' were partway extended, their edges ringed by glowing windows that marked them as elongated observation platforms. "Makes sense given the ship's original function."
                The head was the most abstract, partly because it lacked the elongated neck that distinguished a swan. Instead it sat at the front of the long ship as a rounded projection with subtle warps in the skin that were so finely crafted that the metal looked organically grown rather than assembled. The base of the wings were around and slightly above this rounded nerve center to better protect it from any blunt force that might damage it.  Across the breast, just under the observation wing, foreign glyphs were printed, spelling out what Felix could only assume read Persephone.
                He caught Cor's eye and nodded at the window screen. "They're here."



< Entry 29                                                                                                                                               Entry 31 >

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