The Calm Before—

“Oooh, delicious, and only slightly toxic.”

“You’re going to need to actually take it,” Alice said, holding up the carton of OmniJuice (it’s thirstalicious™!)

Aidra, still sitting on the roof of the wheelhouse with his eyes closed, raised a hand imperiously. The juice carton gently started to levitate, shrouded in a blue nimbus of light.

“This seems really unnecessary,” she said.

Hast thou not wished thine thirst be quenched?” he replied, the imperiousness of his voice reaching ever higher levels of imperiosity.

“No, I hast not.”

“Not even if you imagine Red with his shirt off?”

“That’s an entirely different kind of thirst!” she retorted, heat rising to her face. “Also, no!

“I think that just demonstrates a lack of imagination!”

The straw detached itself from the juice carton as it hovered before his face, floated briefly up and then stabbed down into the carton with a splat.

“If you’re what imaginative looks like, I think I prefer being a dullard.”

In response, all he did was slurp obnoxiously and extendedly from his juice.

Alice rolled her eyes and walked into the wheelhouse and out of earshot.

“Ta very much,” said Zkrith, taking the ceramic bottle from Alice, pulling the cork out with her teeth, and taking a swig. “Aah.”

An unpleasant, sour scent wafted through the room, and Alice wrinkled her nose as it hit her.

“You sure that isn’t drain cleaner?”

“Hey now,” she replied, “I’m the captain, here, and I won’t be putting up with that insubordination.”

[Personally, I Am Glad That I Have No Sense Of Smell. It Just Sounds Unpleasant.]

“Hey! Don’t you disrespect my choice of beverages too!

[I Am Entirely Neutral On Your Choice Of Drain Cleaner — As I Explained, I Have No Sense Of Smell.]

“If Aidra was here,” said Alice, “he’d make a joke about having no nose.”

[I Do Indeed Have No Nose, Or Any Other Facial Features At All.]

“Then how do you see?”

[Thaumo-Chromatic Resonances, From What I Recall. I Magically Detect What Colours The Space That Surrounds Me Holds.]

“But which bit of you does the seeing?”

Twelfth tilted her head to the side. [My Shem, I Suppose. The Glass Ball, Inside My Chest, That Contains The Words That Make Me Live.]

“Huh,” Alice replied thoughtfully, “I guess, since you’ve only got one ‘vital organ’, it does everything for you.”

[It Sounds Gross If You Call It An ‘Organ’.]

The tone which Twelfth took was both confused and somewhat affronted. It was just too much, and Alice broke out in a fit of giggles. Once she’d calmed down, she turned to Zkrith, who was still taking the occasional swig of her bottle of horrible-smelling airag.

“Do you need any more help?”

“Hmmmmm…” Zkrith rubbed her chin pensively, lying on her back and looking up into the guts of the engine. “I think there’s a manifold, and some hoses you can replace. There’s a box of them over… er, around somewhere. Do them one at a time, so you don’t mix up any of the directions. The system should be dry, but wear some gloves.”

“Okay, sure! Where’s this manifold?”

“Oh, it’s right under here,” she replied, scooting out from within the engine on her creeper. “I’ll go get the box of tubes, and you can just replace them while I work on testing the boiler with Twelfth.” She raised her voice as she stood up. “How’s that getting along, by the way?”

[I Got Some Ordox On My Fingers, And I Think They Started Trying To Turn Into Trees. Apart From Having To Cut Some New Growth From My Hands, I Have Managed To Comprehensively De-Degrade The Boiler.]

“Your hands started growing? Ew.”

[Certainly An Odd Sensation. Is This What Growing Feels Like, For Biological Beings?]

“No idea. Anyway, let’s see that boiler.”

Alice lay down on the creeper and started to gingerly scooch back into the darkened depths of the engine, nervously glancing about at the various tubes, gears and other weird things which rattled and gurgled gently in the inactive guts of the machine. The ‘manifold’ was easily visible — it was a bunch of tubes and jointed pipes leading into a weird ceramic thing that looked like a diagram from the front of a maths textbook, not something from a mechanical device at all.

The light was briefly blocked by Zkrith’s head and slightly luminous yellow eyes, down by Alice’s knees, where the engine ended. “You see it?”

“Uh, yeah! I think so. The ceramic weird blob thing?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s a manifold. Here’s your box of tubes.”

She set a box of varied and mysterious tubes down within Alice’s reach, disappeared from view as she stood up again and walked off, hooves clacking on the boards of the engine room, and Alice turned to her new task of unplugging and replugging things from another thing. She was very good at all these engineering terms. Extremely so.

It took a while, and she got oil all over her hands, but the manifold was fully unplugged and replugged, weird viscous fluids drained into a bucket where they sizzled ominously, and she was out from under the engine and getting herself cleaned up.

“What’s even in this stuff?” she asked, gingerly wiping her hands with a cloth Zkrith had given her.

“Spent concepts, mostly,” she replied. “Kinda like the chaff left when you take all the something out of something. It’s semantically devoid, and also very hard to clean off of things.”

Alice nodded vaguely, understanding nothing. “If you say so.”

“I think it should eventually just decompose, but it’s messy in the meanwhile and can interfere with the alchemical processes, so we’re replacing the tubes.”

“Right, so—” Alice began to ask a question, but what she said was cut off, lost in a great rolling thunderous noise. The sound echoed through the ship, and she could feel it in her core, see as the walls of the boat vibrated.

After the thunder finished, everything seemed eerily quiet for a second, before Zkrith spoke.

“What in Heart’s Sinews was that?” hissed Zkrith. She didn’t wait for anyone to answer her question, instead launching herself at the stairs, running up them and out of the engine room, with Alice and Twelfth in hot pursuit. The door to the wheelhouse practically rattled on its hinges as they burst through, glancing around at the placid ink, stretching out into the mists on every side.

Confused, seeing nothing, Alice whirled around to look up above the wheelhouse door, where Aidra still sat. “What’s going on?”

He wasn’t sitting calmly, this time. “Well,” he said, looking around, brows furrowed, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.”

[Bad News First.]

He steepled his fingers and frowned. “I’m not going to have enough time to tell you the good news.”

And then, a terrible and thunderous crashing rush was upon them.

The deck was swept out from under her feet.

Everything went dark.

And cold.

And quiet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s