“What are you doing?"
John turned from the navigation chart he’d just finished rolling into a cylinder to see Eitan entering the bridge.
“I thought I’d tidy the place up a bit.” John held up the chart as proof. “Since we're grounded for the next day or so, it seemed as good a time as any for some housekeeping."
Both men turned to the helm, where wind-driven snow pattered against the screens.
“Winter in Stolichnaya,” Eitan said, turning back to John. “You’d think we’d have learned our lesson, after being grounded last year.”
“At least the Upsilon airfield reduced their moorage fee."
“Pyotr and Lakshmay made a strong case,” Eitan said with the hint of a smile.
“I almost didn’t recognize the good constable bad constable ploy,” John agreed, shooting the rolled-up map into its pigeonhole before pulling another loose chart from under the nav table. “Speaking of our passengers, how are they doing with the delay?”
“Well enough.” Eitan shrugged. “I just passed the galley, and it appears Lakshmay and Kallik are playing cards with Rory.”
John looked up from the chart. “Rory cheats.”
“Having just watched Lakshmay play a hand, I suspect Rory may find he’s not the only one capable of bending the rules.”
“Is that so?” John smiled at that. "When these charts are sorted, I may head to the galley for a cup of tea.” He shot the latest map into place, then grabbed the nav table as the Errant shuddered, rocked, and shuddered again as the wind battered the anchored airship.
Once the ‘ship settled, he glanced to where Eitan had anchored himself against the weapons locker. “What brings you up to the bridge, anyway?”
“I wanted to see if there'd been any news from Gideon.” As he spoke, Eitan said pushed himself off from the locker and crossed to port, and the 'ship's telgram machine.
At the mention of Gideon Quinn, who had been Eitan's former Commanding Officer, John looked up, a chart detailing the topography of Eastern Allianz in his hands.
The last they'd heard from Gideon Quinn had been a message left for the Errant crew at Nike’s airfield, saying the mystery behind the events at the Nasa Escarpment had been solved, details to follow.
John’s spine gave a familiar twinge at the thought of Nasa.
It was on that fateful day that one General Rand had wrested control of John’s ‘ship.
“It's possible Gideon doesn't trust his news to the telgram operators,” John pointed out, shaking off the memory and focusing on the chart in his hands.
At which point the telgram hummed to life.
“But I’ve been known to be wrong,” he added. Curious, he slid the final chart home and joined Eitan at the comm station as as the rhythmic clack of the internal keys began.
“You’re not wrong this time,” Eitan observed, holding up the end of the tape spitting from the machine. “The message is not from Gideon.”
“And not addressed to us,” John added, angling his head to read the addressee as one Pyotr Aaberg, care of the UCAS Errant.
“I can deliver the message,” Eitan offered, bracing himself as the ‘ship gave another, shuddering, jerk.
“That’s all right,” John said, while the telgram clacked out the end of the message, indicating no reply required. "I’ll take it to him. He's probably holed up in his quarters, doing paperwork." He tore the tape free, then glanced at Eitan, still staring at the now-quiet machine. "You could send a telgram to Gideon," John suggested. "Ask for generalities, at least."
"We don't know where he is staying," Eitan's shoulder lifted with a hint of a shrug. "And, you are likely on the starbuck about his reasons. Even if Gideon were willing, I doubt the Corps would enjoy their dirty laundry being aired via telgram." He paused, glanced at the machine once more. "Perhaps I will go see how that card game is going."
"And spend some time with Kallik?"
"They are quite engaging," Eitan observed as he and John headed aft, but said no more, leaving John with no idea if Eitan and Kallik had taken their flirtations any further.
And it wasn't any of his business, anyway, John reminded himself as they clattered down ladder to the cabin deck, where Eitan waved and continued down to the common rooms.
Alone in the passage, John waited for Eitan's steps to recede before heading towards the cabin assigned to Pyotr Aaberg.
As far as John could tell, Pascal had managed to avoid spending too much time with either Eitan or Jagati, and John wanted to continue that trend.
Not that he was concerned for Pascal's mission in particular—he didn't believe either Jagati or Eitan would say or do anything to endanger a Colonial operative.
No, John thought, as his steps echoed in the quiet passage, and his shadow danced in the soft flicker of the lantern-light, the simple truth was that he didn't want his crew learning of his own history with Spec Ops—a history John would be only too happy to forget.
And though he knew Eitan and Jagati would never deliberately pry into Pascal's psyche, even the most polite sensitive could pick up ripples of secrets.
Eitan had admitted as much, recently.
Better safe, John thought, coming to a halt in front of Pascal's door at the same time a clatter of boots on allusteel had him spinning aft.
"Whyyyy...." the drawn out word preceded the sight of Jagati, jogging up the ladderwell and into the passage, wrapped in a thick blanket that, John knew, belonged to Rory.
"Why what?" he asked. flattening himself against the wall as she plowed past.
“Why would anyone live here?” Jagati wailed, her question bouncing off the walls as she tugged the blanket over her head and pounded down the passage before angling to port where, from the ensuing clanks, she was heading up to the bridge.
"I see she wasn’t joking about not liking the cold,” a Stoli-accented voice observed.
John spun on his heels and Pascal quickly stepped back into his room, hands held out. "Sorry. No knives, I promise."
"Really?" John asked.
"None in my hands," Pascal amended.
"That sounds about right." Both men turned aft, from which the sound of boots clanking downstairs, echoed. "But no,” John added with a sigh, “Jagati was not joking about the cold.” He turned back to Pascal, who had lowered his hands and was still staring in the direction of the aft ladderwell. "You have a telgram," he said, holding up the tape.
“From the Kopernik camp?” Pascal asked, holding out a hand.
John flicked a glance at the tape’s origin. “From your Uncle Alexei.” He handed the message over.
Pascale accepted the tape. "Did you read it?”
“That would have been intrusive,” John said, then admitted, “And I assumed the message would be coded, given we both know you don’t have an Uncle Alexei.”
“Right,” Pascal said, and began to read the message.
While he did, John peered into the other man’s cabin to see the desk covered with maps, the bed strewn with ledgers.
“It’s not coded,” Pascal said, pulling John’s attention back and handing the tape over.
John took the telgram. “‘—received word from an old friend in Upsilon’,” he read aloud. “‘You can find Soshi playing drums a the ice tavern’.” He paused, looked up. “Ice tavern? Is that a thing?”
“Apparently.” Pyotr reclaimed the tape. “This is my first time in Upsilon.”
“I see. And do you, in fact, have an old friend named Soshi?”
At that Pascal grinned. “That I won’t know until I see her. Could be any of a number of colleagues.” He shot a glance down the passage before adding, “Likely Soshi, whoever she is, has some fresh intel to deliver.”
“Why not radio your—uncle?” John asked, but quietly. “If she can get a message routed to a grounded airship—”
“Too risky, this close to the Thracian border.” Pascal waved that off. “Their Sig-Intel is straight out of the Midasian playbook.” He sighed, folded the tape into his pocket. “It seems I’m going out to visit an ice tavern.”
“Out?” John echoed. “As in, out, out?” He gestured vaguely as the Errant shifted on its anchors. “In this?”
“It’s not that bad,” Pascal said.
“I hate this!” The complaint echoed through the forward ladderwell, followed bye the clump of boots.
“Jagati would disagree,” John said, leaning against the bulkhead to make room for his frigid first mate, who came to a hopping stop as she reached the middle of the deck.
“How long until we can leave?” she asked, glaring at John, as if the weather were his fault.
“Upsilon Flight and our sonar agree the storm should move on by tomorrow,” he said, opting not to mention that, should the storm decide to move northeast, there would be no point raising anchor until it cleared Kopernik.
“Tomorrow?” She yelped. “I am halfway to a Jagcicle NOW” It was not clear whether the rapid stomp was an attempt to keep warm or a toddleresque tantrum.
"What's the problem?" All three turned to see Alain had appeared in the door of his quarters, a book in hand.
"Jagati was bemoaning the weather," John said.
"Understandable," Alain grimaced and clutched at the doorsill as the deck jerked beneath them.
"I've never heard tell of wild cards in Tesla Twist," Rory complained, appearing in the forward ladder well.
"That's because you've never played in Moosehead," Lakshmay’s voice emerged before she appeared, taking the stairs more slowly. “Oh!” She blinked at the crowd in the passageway as Rory assisted her up the last steps. "Are we having a party?"
"And no one invited us?" Rory added.
John rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and heard what might have been the leading edge of a laugh from Jagati. He met her eyes and saw a familiar glint of humor.
Passengers, she mouthed with a what can you do? shrug.
"John was bringing me a telgram from my Uncle Alexei,” Pascal explained, waving the tape for everyone to see. "He has news of an old friend who has settled in Upsilon."
"Why would anyone settle in Upsilon?” This, of course, from Jagati.
"I think she was following her lover," Pascal said.
"No piece that hot," Jagati muttered.
“I would have to ask,” Pascal said with a grin. “But my uncle writes that she can be found playing drums at the Upsilon ice tavern, and I should go and see her."
"Go where?" Eitan asked.
John turned aft to see Eitan and Kallik climbing up from the ladder.
"Why is everyone standing in the hall?" Kallik asked.
"Passage," Lakshmay reminded them.
“Right. Why is everyone standing in the passage?" they amended.
"Well, it is warmer, in a crowd," Jagati noted.
Pascal made a little sound that had John looking down to see the expression of one seeking patience.
Having felt the exact same way quite often, John almost felt sorry for him.
“Pyotr’s uncle sent word of an old friend of Pyotr’s who lost her mind and moved to Upsilon,” Jagati explained. “And said friend plays the drums at an ice tavern.” She paused, looked at Pascal. “What fresh hell is an ice tavern, anyway?”
Pascal shrugged. “Only one way to find out.” He folded the tape into his pocket. “I will need to get my coat.”
“You’re going out?” Kallik asked, then grinned. “Can I come with?”
“Are you all insane?” Jagati waved a hand and bopped John in the head.
“It could be interesting,” Eitan said.
“I think I’ll remain on the Errant,” Alain determined as the wind buffeted the ‘ship once more.
“Same here,” Lakshmay agreed, tapping her leg. “Kopernik is soon enough to be dealing with the snow.”
“Fair enough,” Rory said, “but I admit, I’m a mite curious as to what this ice tavern might be.” He glanced at John.
“Fine,” John said, resigned. “Let’s make a group outing of it.” In part because the ice tavern sounded interesting, but mostly because the idea of his crew accompanying Pascal, ignorant of his actual purpose, didn’t sit well.
“You all do what you want,” Jagati said, hauling the blanket close. “There’s no way on Fortune I’m going out there in this weather.”