Nike City, Avon
The Frayed Rigging
February 16, 1449 After Landing
“How may the Errant serve?"
It was a question Jagati had often heard John ask since they’d gone into the air freight business.
But this time, she couldn’t help looking on the tall fellow who’d appeared at their table, seeking the captain of the Errant with mixed emotions.
Not that they couldn’t use the income—Keepers knew they needed the cash—but their potential client had arrived as she and John were negotiating the rules of a game begun a few days prior, when John had surprised her with a kiss.
John, in fact, had only just handed Jagati the ball in that particular game—and she’d been this close to making a play—when Dr. Alain Natsiq had arrived in search of an airship to hire.
By all rights, Jagati should have been relieved by the interruption.
She was relieved.
Smog it, she thought as the doctor waved to someone on the other side of the pub.
“Just letting my associates know I found you," Natsiq explained as he dropped into the chair John offered.
“Associates?” Jagati asked, turning with John to spy a tall, slender young person with coppery skin and ink-black hair scything through the crowded tables, followed by someone of much shorter stature, the only visible feature being a mop of light-brown hair sprinkled with hints of gray.
“My eldest, Kallik,” Natsiq indicated the taller of the approaching pair. “They are also a doctor, and Pyotr Aaberg. Our fourth member, Dr. Spencer, is still at the airfield, inventorying our supplies.”
“Two Dr. Natsiq’s?” Jagati focused on the elder physician. “Doesn’t that get confusing?”
“It would,” Alain agreed, “but Kallik uses their full name, Natsiq-Corvais.”
“I try to,” the young doctor in question said as they arrived at the table, a goblet of red wine in hand and a twinkle in their dark eyes, “but generally our patients give up and call us Dr. A and Dr. K.”
“They do not,” their father replied.
“They do when you’re not listening,” Kallik said with an infectious grin.
“And here’s Pyotr,” Alain announced as the last of the party broke through the crush, carrying two pint glasses.
Jagati, turning to the newcomer, felt a sense of shock.
Why, she couldn’t say, as, aside from his stature, the man was about as innocuous as they came.
Then she glanced at John just in time to see him schooling his features and realized that it wasn’t her shock she felt, but his.
She could make nothing of it, as his sense of surprise faded almost as it arose, leaving a space as empty as his expression as he greeted Pyotr Aaberg.
Smogging empathic woo woo.
Jagati had lived most of her life oblivious of her own empathic nature, but as of late she’d become particularly attuned in to the emotions of those around her
Worse, she’d begun randomly projecting what she sensed.
So now, instead of the hushed tide of intuition she’d assumed everyone felt, her senses were often poked, tripped, or buffeted by other people’s emotions.
True, she’d gained some control over the projecting bits, thanks to Eitan Fehr, another member of the Errant crew, and another sensitive.
As she thought of him, her gaze drifted to the dance floor, where Eitan was dazzling the crowd with his moves.
Must be a day of the week, she thought.
“You forgot your ale, Alain,” Pyotr announced, drawing her attention back to the table as the newcomer handed over one of the two pints, his deep voice carrying traces of Stolichnaya.
"Thank you Pyotr." Alain accepted the drink. “Pyotr, Kallik, may I present Captain John Pitte and…”
“Jagati O’Bannion,” Jagati filled in the expectant pause.
“Jagati is the Errant’s first mate,” John explained.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Pyotr said, climbing into the chair next to Kallik.
“And are you a doctor as well?” John asked Pyotr, his expression bland but Jagati got another little spike from her captain as he asked.
“Not me, no,” Pyotr waved John’s question aside. “I am merely an administrator.”
“Pyotr is far more than that,” Alain said. “As the team admin, he handles all the tedious details, so we in the medical staff can focus on our work.”
“Interesting,” John said, then glanced at Jagati before asking, “And what work do you do, precisely?”
“Nothing illegal, I assure you,” Alain began.
“Just a little insane,” Kallik added.
That had both Jagati and John turning to Alain, who raised his hands as if in acceptance of the judgment. “Are either of you acquainted with the organization, Healers Beyond Borders?”
“Sure.” Jagati shrugged. “We’ve come across HBB camps a few times over the years.”
John nodded his agreement. “The organization does an excellent job, filling in the gaps left by the Keepers, with none of the same protections the Keepers enjoy while doing it,” he added, with a hint of bitterness that, Jagati knew, was a holdover from his conversation with Master Keeper Shohreh, just two days past.
“Like I said, a little insane,” Kallik raised their glass in a toast to their companions.
“Not so insane this time,” Pyotr said.
“We are flying to the eastern border of Stolichnaya—in February,” Kallik pointed out.
“Keepers,” Jagati said, then shrugged as everyone looked at her. “Not a fan of cold weather.”
“Unfortunately, neither was the captain of the airship we had originally chartered,” Alain said, staring at his pint.
“It wasn’t the cold she objected to,” Kallik said, their voice taking on an edge.
“Captain LeVeau has opinions on just who Healers Beyond Borders should be helping,” Alain explained. “In that she believes we shouldn’t be helping anyone outside Colonial Borders.”
“Talk about missing the brief,” Jagati said as, on stage, the musicians transitioned to a louder, faster piece.
"No succor to the enemy?” John guessed, pitching his voice up to be heard over the clapping that accompanied the music.
“Never mind that there are as many HBB members in the Coalition as there are in the colonies,” Kallik pointed out.
“Which is why we sought you out,” Alain added. “After LeVeau cancelled on our contract, we went to the airfield office and a fellow named Alvaro mentioned the Errant had just returned to Nike, and might suit our needs.”
“We might,” John said, his eyes darting to Pyotr and back to Alain. “But there are some matters to discuss..."
"We have the fee," Alain said, before naming a sum that Jagati judged as barely on the right side of doable.
Then again, after the last job—for which they’d only gotten half the agreed fee before the swarm hit the hive—what the doctors were offering would at least keep them ahead of moorage fees.
“Which is good to know,” John said to Alain, “but money isn’t the only issue.”
“Please,” Kallik held up their hands, “if you’re going to turn us down, do it fast, so we can start looking for another ‘ship.”
“We’re not turning you down,” Jagati said, glancing at John.
“Not at all,” John agreed. “We merely like to go into a deal with a certain amount of transparency.”
“Meaning?” Pyotr asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously at John.
“Meaning, the Errant is an older ‘ship,” Jagati explained while John and Pyotr engaged in a shared mini-glare. “Like, liquid-aluminum battery old. No crystal power.”
“Oh, if that’s all,” Alain appeared ready to wave that all.
“Not entirely,” John said, shifting his attention to Alain.
“We’ve also got sparse guest furnishings,” Jagati said.
“And a dodgy engine pod,” John added.
“Not to mention the twenty-year-old bact-system, so water rationing is a necessity,” Jagati continued
“Basically, the Errant isn’t the fastest, or most comfortable, transport in the airfield,” John concluded.
“Forgive me,” Alain said, “but this still feels as you are turning us down—just more politely.”
“It’s more that we like to underpromise and overdeliver,” John said.
“There’s a reason we carry freight more often than passengers,” Jagati added before picking up her drink. “It can get a little boring and a lot ripe.”
“You realize we work in aid camps, don’t you?” Kallik asked.
“Fair point,” John admitted, then met Jagati’s gaze.
She dipped her head, and he turned to the waiting clients.
“And it looks like we have an understanding,” he said.
“Excellent,” Alain smiled. “Pyotr, you have the contract, still?”
“Right here,” Pyotr patted his coat while Jagati rose from her chair to wave wildly at the dance floor.
“Figure we should get Eitan in on the conversation,” she explained at John’s questioning glance. “Eitan’s one of the crew,” she said to the others. “Our mechanic already called it a night, but you’ll meet him soon enough.”
“Smog it to Earth and back,” Pyotr swore, then looked up, sheepishly. “I seem to have dropped the contract somewhere.”
“Possibly at the bar?” John asked.
“Seems likely,” Pyotr said, sliding off of his chair.
“I’ll—“ Kallik began.
“I’ll help you look for it,” John cut in, popping up from his seat. “We’ll be back soon,” he promised, waving vaguely at the table, “and finish the formalities.”
“If you’re sure,” Kallik said, though they sounded perfectly happy to remain and enjoy their wine.
“We will be fine,” Pyotr promised as, first John, then he, pushed through the surrounding hordes.
“I hope the contract isn’t on the floor,” Kallik said, eyeing the sticky floorboards.
“Did you say something about another crew member?” Alain asked.
Jagati looked back at the dance floor and realized Eitan hadn’t noticed her earlier hail.
“Hold on a sec,” she said, jumping from the chair and heading towards the rhythmic crowd.
Halfway to her goal, she huffed out a breath and decided to try something different.
Standing still, she focused all her attention on Eitan’s enthusiastically spinning figure, and was rewarded by the sudden flick of his head in her direction.
As soon as their eyes met, she jerked her chin, which afforded her a quick nod from Eitan, who immediately scythed through the dancers to join her.
“Possible job,” she explained as she led him back to the table, but the hand on her shoulder made her step slow as he pulled even with her.
“One you seem less than pleased by,” he said, reminding her he could sense more than her summons.
“No,” she said with an ill-tempered shrug. “The job is fine. Could be worse, anyway.”
“Which we know well,” he murmured, no doubt thinking of their last job, and the part his ex-lover had played in it.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “But no, I mean, there’s nothing off about this job, but there is something off about Pitte.”
Which was as much as she could explain because they’d just reached their table, where two figures rose to greet them.
“Eitan Fehr,” she introduced her crewmate with a nod of her head, “Dr. Natsiq and Dr. Natsiq,” she said, unable to help herself.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Alain said with a nod before relaxing back into his chair.
“Please, call me Kallik,” the younger Natsiq inserted smoothly, reaching out their hand to grasp Eitan’s.
Sweet Merciful Keeper’s hive, the smile Eitan gave the Kallik near made Jagati’s head swim.
She was surprised the young medic remained on their feet.
“Both doctors, you say?” Eitan asked as he, Kallik, and Jagati took their seats. “Are either of you acquainted with Tiago Hama? He is a friend, about to graduate from Yousafzai Medical.”
“We haven’t met, but then, we both graduated from Oronhyatekha, in Moosehead,” Alain explained.
While the Natsiqs and Eitan made nice, Jagati tried not to look in the direction of the bar, where John was theoretically helping Pyotr find the missing contract.
Something up, there, she thought, tapping her glass.
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