Kilo - I wish to communicate
Stretched out alone on the rug, Barnes feels the steps of the bear like swells. There is just enough light to see that Carter’s bed is empty, quilt smoothed. Earhart’s, too, leaving Barnes alone in the bunkroom. It may be the first time he’s been alone in weeks. It feels luxurious, and empty, and too quiet. There is something tugging at his senses, a change in the wind, or just the memory of Carter’s humming in the dark.
Papa - In harbour, all persons report on board
Everyone is already in the dining room when he gets there, washed, dressed, ready for work on the ship after the conversation with Earhart last night. With no idea when the others will return, the best they can do is make the ship ready and prepare for the next leg of the journey. Maybe the bear will take them wherever they need to go, but likely not.
Earhart has one of the small tables to herself. Next to her mug and empty plate are bits of paper, some in piles, but if they are arranged the scheme is not evident.
“Barnes. Nice of you to join us.”
It’s what she says to the last one in. It’s the first time she’s been able to say it to Barnes.
“What’s this then?”
“Notes. To enter in the log, on the ship.”
“What’s the glass?”
“Best weather we’ve seen in ages. Visibility for miles.”
“Good day for it, then.”
“Indeed. Get your breakfast. Get them’all situated.”
Barnes gets coffee, eggs, toast. Scooping jam onto his plate somehow reminds him of Cel, reminds him of that strange breakfast just days ago, makes him smile.
He sets his plate down at the big table with the kobolds, then walks around to greet the others, ending up all the way around the table. The kobolds are deep in discussion of something, something amusing, their growling chuckles buzzing through the room. Barnes taps their upraised claws with his fist, then sits across from Carter. Natun is tucked up next to Carter, Sassraa on his other side. Natun and Sassraa aren’t in the discussion, though Natun seems to be following along from where they’re leaned against Carter.
“Barnes. Amazing day.”
Carter is just sitting, hands curled loosely on either side of his plate. Sassraa is sitting the same way, almost exactly, the back of their left hand against the back of Carter’s right. Carter is grinning, not with mischief or even delight. He seems immensely happy, contented, sated. Kobolds don’t exactly smile, but Sassraa’s other eyelids are half-closed and their ears are swiveled back, their shoulders down.
“Carter, what’s going on?”
“Sommat with Wilde and them?”
“Must be. Not just Wilde, though. Others.”
“Others. From the other place.”
Barnes catches Earhart’s eye across the room, tips his head toward Carter. She slides off her chair, goes over to the counter to fill her mug, then stands at the end of the table.
“Yes’m. Something good is going on.”
“Can you tell what’s happening?”
“Not at all. Just feels happy.”
His expression is somehow alert and dreamy at once.
“All right. Let’s just all go over to the ship then.”
She looks at Barnes.
“Finish up. If something is going on I’ll feel better if we’re all on the ship.”
Everyone clears the tables, including Carter and Sassraa, both quiet, smiling, as if some quiet music plays.
They fill water bottles, pack up fruit and pastries for snacking at the ship, gather on the porch of the inn. Earhart leads down the steps and they all fall in, the loose formation a habit and a comfort, leading and following.
Hotel - pilot on board
The streets and turnings through the city to the ship are familiar now, and feel the same as yesterday. There are some people walking, some doors open, the gentle sound of wind chimes and conversation. The air might be clearer, though, and the sun a bit brighter.
Carter is a quiet presence at his shoulder, not the tense silence of engagement but calm, purposeful, without agitation.
Barnes tips his chin, twirls his finger, and Carter steps away. Someone watching would see him adjust his stride a bit faster or slower to loop around the group, cock his head as if to listen at the cross-streets, briefest pause by Kiko at Earhart’s shoulder, by Siggif and Friedrich behind the group.
“Anything?” Barnes asks, unsettled still, or again.
“Same,” Carter says, but he is not the same, and something stays tight between Barnes’ shoulder blades.
At the ship, the Ursans who have been working with them are waiting at the bottom of the ramp. They fall in with them, greeting the kobolds, nodding to Earhart and the crew.
The debris has been cleared from the deck and everything that can be stowed has been stowed. There’s a way to go to shipshape, though. Not sure it will ever look shipshape with potted trees and stripes of bright yellow, pink, and blue.
Down in the engine room there seem to be fewer piles of disassembled parts. Sassraa and one of the Ursans are sorting out something from one of the piles. In a flurry of draconic, the other kobolds scatter to shelves and drawers. One by one they come back to the main worktable with snarls of wire.
Earhart is on her usual stool.
“What do you think, Barnes?”
“Engines are not my domain even a little. I know on and off,” says Barnes.
“And trouble, s’pose,” says Earhart.
“And trouble. That was the first thing, that day, the first wrong thing.”
Barnes rolls his shoulders. The prickling feeling in his back is almost like that morning, some subtle signal.
Earhart takes off her glasses, rubs her face.
“What’s on then?”
“Thinking about the deck rails. I’ll need Siggif and Friedrich. Kiko if she’s available. Natun maybe, if Carter has ideas.”
“And Carter’s all right?”
“Seems. He said there’s a connection, that he would know if something bad happened, or good. Glad it’s good.”
“Go ahead then. Keep everyone busy anyway.”
On his way from the engine room to the deck, Barnes whistles, one of the signals they worked out for times they weren’t in sight. Once for to me, then once more for bring others.
On deck, it’s quiet. There’s almost no breeze, and everyone is elsewhere. There is no particular noise, nothing audible. He places his hand against the mast, gets the sense of steps within the ship, the slow rocking movement of the bear. Under way he could guess their speed by the thrumming vibration of the rigging.
Barnes is rummaging in the bow gear locker when Carter arrives with Siggif and Friedrich.
“Kiko’s busy below. And Sassraa’s got the kobolds doing something fiddly.”
“Yeh, good. Here.”
Barnes pulls out mallets, wrenches, gloves. Carter just waits, not fidgeting, that happy expression carrying on from earlier.
“Any ideas for the railings?”
They walk around the perimeter of the ship, find the spots to be fixed, mostly places where the stress from being picked up by the eagles has skewed the railings out of true, cracked some of the timbers.
“Looks like just put them back together, tighten them up. Splint the broken parts, maybe.”
“Let’s get that first section, then.”
The railing is connected to posts with angled brackets, then the posts are bolted to the ends of rib timbers that protrude above the deck. There are six posts to a section, designed to be removed for repairs, but the damage has pushed the posts out of alignment so half the bolts take two people to loosen. It takes all of them to wrestle and drag the first section onto the deck. They take turns loosening the rest of the bolts.
Carter goes below to find some oil for the bolts. When he comes back Natun is with him and the rest of the crew troops up the stairs behind them. Kiko pulls on gloves, ready to help with the railings.
“Too nice a day to be inside,” says Carter. “They can do the fiddly stuff up here.”
Natun and Draal carry a rug between them, spread it on the deck, about where the bar used to be. The rest of the kobolds dump what they’ve brought onto the rug, make a pile of parts, a pile of wire.
Earhart is sat at the chart table near the wheel with the log book open in front of her. Methodically she picks up one of her little notes, peers at it, jots in the book.
Quietly, calmly, Sassraa squirts oil on the bolts that are still seized, using Cel’s little oil can with the thin spout and the trigger mechanism. Barnes is pounding at one of the brackets to shift it back into alignment, and when he sets the mallet down to take his shirt off the quiet is almost eerie.
X-Ray - Stop your intentions, Watch for signals
Barnes and the other crew are in the stern, repairing the next chunk of railing. After trial and error with the first piece, this one goes faster as Kiko and Siggif remove the bolts that attach the posts to the deck, then the four of them lift and shift the railing, posts and all, laying it on the deck. Parts of the railing are splintered almost all the way through from where the eagle’s claws gripped to carry the ship to the city on the bear.
Carter has stayed with the kobolds up in the bow. All of them are winding wire into very smooth bands over rods that will be reattached into the engine, something to do with the elementals. Earhart is still at the chart table, writing. The Ursans are at the bow, one looking out, one facing back toward the deck.
One of the brackets is stuck, and as Friedrich pries it out Barnes walks up to the bow to get his water bottle and the other mallet. The breeze has picked up, more like previous days but not at all cold, not cold enough to cause the gooseflesh on his arms.
Something is different.
On the blanket, Sassraa and Carter are facing each other, as if in conversation, but not talking. Sassraa’s ears are all the way up, pointed mostly at Carter. Natun is at one of the compass points from the two of them, looks at first one, then the other. The rest of the kobolds are mostly opposite Natun, still working, but watchful.
If there is sound, Barnes can’t hear it, but there is something, a vibration.
Uniform - You are heading into danger
Barnes pulls on his shirt, ties the tails, rolls his cuffs. Watching, he can see that Carter and Sassraa are breathing together.
He squats next to Carter, just waits for a couple of breaths. Carter sees him, he’s sure, but his focus isn’t here. His expression has lost the sparkle from the morning, is serious, almost sad.
“Carter,” he says softly. “All right?”
“Something’s happening,” Carter answers, and his next breath is quicker, almost a gasp.
The kobolds have set down the parts, ears up, watching Sassraa and Carter.
In the next moment there is a low growl from Sassraa, matched by Carter’s low moan, and the rest of the kobolds stand up, shift into a defensive circle around them.
Carter’s wordless cry is full of fear and despair. He collapses forward, covering his head with his hands, keening.
Sassraa is on all fours, tail thrashing, growling.
Barnes kneels next to Carter, lays his hand on Carter’s back, feels the hitching spasm of sobs, feels the deck humming under his knees.
Earhart is in the circle, has a hand on Sassraa’s shoulder, reaches out to Barnes. They grip hands and can only wait.
Carter raises his head, face wet with tears, eyes wide but unseeing, he and Sassraa still in sync, gulping for breath, each exhale a moaning, humming growl.
Then something changes, again. Something happens.
“No,” Carter says, kneeling up. His fists clench, breath slowing, expression shifting from agony through anger to defiance. Sassraa’s growl ceases at the same time Carter exclaims softly, astonished.
Both of them move, poised. Carter looks at Barnes, sees him, gives one of his familiar whole body shakes.
They speak together, Sassraa in draconic.
“Here it comes.”