Soon after Rory and Eitan’s departure, John and Jagati locked down the Errant and headed for the airfield gates.
Outside, a light rain fell while the mists rose from the Avon, contributing to the overall damp.
John took a lungful of moist air and considered the airfield which, in the wet and fading light, put him in mind of an underwater seascape and the airships, floating low from their moorings, a host of great underwater beasts, tethered to the ocean’s floor.
He said as much to Jagati, who ranged at his side, a study in fire and earth in vivid contrast to the Nikean watercolors.
Her response was to scowl and then point out that underwater beasts wouldn’t be tethered anywhere.
“Unless you believe all those drunken sailors and their mer stories,” she added, hitching the waterproof duffle over her shoulder. “In which case, a’ight, maybe a mer would have the stones to tame an ichthyosaurus or a whale or—except, wait, would mers have stones? And if they did, where—”
“Never mind,” John said.
“But now you’ve raised the philosophical question, I want to know.”
He glanced sideways. “The philosophical question of the existence of submarine humanoids or that said submarine humanoids have stones?”
It was, of course, a ludicrous conversation, but one that allowed both to appear unconcerned by the other bodies headed towards the airfield’s tram station, any of whom might be after the calculator.
If any of them were, John hoped they believed the calculator was inside the satchel slung crossways over his jacket—the same satchel he’d taken out of Dyar’s Canyon—and not inside the Errant.
“I still don’t like leaving the ‘ship unguarded,” Jagati said under her breath, as if she’d been reading his mind.
“No help for it.” He lengthened his stride as he spied the mag tram beyond the main gate.
“Only because you insisted on Rory playing decoy,” she pointed out, keeping up.
“Better a decoy in the city than a sitting duck inside the Errant,” John pointed out, then stopped because she had stopped too. “What?” he asked while, around them, cargo drones and airship crew and newly arrived travelers continued on towards the tram.
“You wanted him safe,” she said, her tone almost accusing.
“Of course I did. I have found, over the years, it’s best to keep my crew alive. Which is also why Eitan is following him,” he added with a little hurry up gesture, which she ignored.
“Did you really think we needed a decoy?” she asked. “Or were you just you trying to keep Rory out of the crossfire?”
“Which answer will get us on that tram the fastest?”
He gave up. “They’re both true,” he said. “Dyar’s Canyon proved two aren’t enough to keep the ‘ship safe, even if one of them is Eitan. But,” he added, “I also believe what I said about Sameen’s interest and Tariq’s focus so,” he gestured, “can we go now?”
In answer, she gave a shake of the head that sent a spray of fine drops out in an echo of the rain, then started to jog towards the waiting mag tram, leaving him to follow.
Typical of their recent luck, the tram was crammed full by the time they boarded, with each passenger contributing to the fust for which Nike’s public transportation was famous.
At the second stop, more people boarded, packing in as tight as sardines in a tin.
Knobby, pokey, dripping sardines, Jagati thought, irritated by the sheer weight of humanity on all sides.
The tram was so crowded, she was half-leaning over one of the lucky seat holders while said seat holder’s knee was firmly entrenched in her thigh. At her left, two enlisteds kept shoving her into John as they debated the most likely spots in the city for a gal to enjoy herself, both vertically and horizontally.
The taller of the two, a sergeant, seemed to have spotted a potential horizontal distraction, as she kept making eyes over Jagati’s head at another passenger. The sergeant had already attempted a similar approach with John soon after she boarded, and taken his good-humored shake of the head with an equally good-humored shrug of regret.
Jagati wondered if John would have been more open to the well-endowed enlisted if they weren’t dealing with the wasp nest Sameen had dropped them in.
Then she wondered why she was wondering about it.
Then she wondered why her spine contracted every time Sameen came to mind.
“Something on your mind?” John asked.
“Just wondering if it ever doesn’t rain in this city,” she lied.
“There was one day, in April of ’47 if I recall correctly,” he said. “Not only did it not rain, the suns remained visible for the entire day.”
Her gaze slid over to see him staring out over the sea of heads. “I know you think you’re funny, but you’re not.”
“I know,” he said, turning to face her. “I also know it’s not the weather you were thinking about.”
She felt her face warm. “It’s not?”
Behind her, the lusty sergeant’s partner made a suggestive comment, and both women laughed. Jagati ignored them. “And what would I be thinking about, since I am so transparent?”
“Charitably?” He shrugged, no small feat in their current, contained circumstances. “You’re thinking I put all of us in the line of fire for the sake of money.”
“Not quite.” Relieved he’d misjudged her preoccupations, she risked potential chiropractic injury to face him as she added, “I know it’s not the money, or not the money for money’s sake. But you did it without telling me, which, back in the day, you’d never have done. Even when you were in command of the Kodiak, you never kept secrets from me.”
At her declaration, however, something flickered in his eyes and he looked away.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said, though he also wouldn’t meet her gaze.
She had to work to not clench her teeth. “Stop saying nothing when you obviously mean something.”
“Fine,” he said, meeting her expectant gaze. “Suffice it to say that everyone has secrets.”
“Everyone who’s not you, maybe.” She would have waved the assertion aside, but the sardine factor prevented it. “I would have known if you were keeping anything from me.” Except she hadn’t known about the Errant being impounded, had she?
“Like you knew I was keeping the Errant’s seizure from you?”
“And see how well that turned out,” she countered, frustrated with his perspicacity and irritated with herself for being frustrated. “What kind of secrets did you keep from me back in the day, anyway?”
“If I told you, they wouldn’t be secrets.”
“It was nothing you’d find interesting,” he cut her off.
“Lipton Street!” the conductor called before she could challenge that assumption.
A moment later the tram slowed to a stop and everyone aboard heaved forward and back in a tidal shift that effectively put an end to the discussion.
The doors opened with a blast of damp and Jagati turned, angled, and otherwise contorted herself to allow Knobby Knees and the pleasure-seeking enlisteds to join the other travelers disgorging onto Lipton Street.
Taking a deep breath of the rain-drenched air which took the place of all those bodies, she fwumped down into the now-empty seat and slumped back, careful of the duffle resting at her feet and letting her eyes half-close to the remaining passengers.
A half second later, John sat down next to her. “Anything?” he asked, his voice pitched so low that Jagati figured a draco would have trouble hearing him.
Back to business.
“Well dressed thug, thirteen o’clock,” she replied under the cover of a yawn, referring to a man with gleaming gold-brown skin and wearing a slick black coat. He also displayed a pointed lack of interest in John, which told her how interested he really was. “Boarded right before us, well dressed but with a lump under the arm says shoulder rig. You?”
“Russet coat, seven hundred,” he coughed, the covering hand pointing to the tall, slender woman in a flowing coat, whose close-shaved skull set off striking ebony features. “Followed us on.”
“Left sleeve, best guess a knife or a shock stick.”
She grunted acknowledgement and hoped the presence of two shadows on their tram meant Rory was safe.
“So, where are you meeting this Sameen of yours?” she asked, pitching her voice loud enough that both the elegant woman and the well-dressed thug could hear.
Was that her imagination or had the woman (Keepers, she could cut glass with those cheekbones) stood up straighter at hearing the name? She let her gaze drift over to the thug and saw his eyes come to focus on Cheekbones, at which point they narrowed, as if not pleased with what they saw.
“She’s not my Sameen,” John said in response, and, despite his genuine discomfort with Jagati’s phrasing, he too was watching the silent exchange between the gleaming thug and his tall counterpart who, as he watched, broke off their mutual glare to glance at John and Jagati, then again at each other.
“I feel like a dodo stuck between a dire wolf and a draco,” John said under his breath.
“How are we going to ditch two of them?”
He looked out through the window, noting their location. “Coming up on Coleridge,” he said. “We have to do the thing.”
Her hiss was soft, but he heard it. “I don’t wanna do the thing.”
“Coleridge Avenue,” the conductor called.
“Wait for it,” he murmured as the tram heaved to a halt.
The well-dressed thug rolled forward on the balls of his feet, as if preparing to move.
“Waiting,” she mumbled back, eyes on the woman who, John noted, had settled back on her heels in the loose-limbed preparedness he’d often seen Eitan display, just prior to ruining his opponent’s day.
To John’s left, a trio of passengers debarked, then half a dozen young people proceeded to board.
“All aboard for Bard Street and Shakespeare’s Circus,” the conductor called.
“Now,” John said, and he and Jagati leaped from the bench and swung for the exit.
Since he was closest, he blocked the door of the tram open while Jagati shoved a student aside, jumping past the flummoxed young woman to hit the pavement running.
“Terribly sorry,” John apologized before jumping out after Jagati to land on the wet pavers with a splash and a sharp retort from his left knee, which he ignored as he took off on Jagati’s heels.
From behind came a series of curses, and the splashing thud of boots on pavers.
He didn’t look back to see who’d followed them.
“We could head into the park,” Jagati said as he came even with her.
“Too isolated,” he didn’t even look toward the wild-growing enviro-sector she’d indicated.
“Exactly,” she pressed her point. “No collateral to damage.”
He glanced her way. “I don’t want any shooting.”
“Then why did you have me bring the rifle?”
“In case there’s no other choice. For now, we stick with the plan and try to lose them.” He elbow-bumped her to the left, past the just-closed print shop and just-opened pub, towards a building that looked like someone had planted a garden of minarets atop a warehouse.
Under the minarets, crystal-powered chaser lights spelled out the word Xanadu in a rainbow of colors. Below this display stood a double-doored entrance, through which Nikeans of all ages streamed.
“Next time,” she said, “we go for the shooting option.”
“Next time,” he replied, as they joined the mass of pleasure seekers in the queue, “you can shoot me, first. Keepers know, it would be less painful than all the arguing.”
Want to help grow Outrageous Fiction? Just hit Like, and Subscribe or Share on your favorite social platform using the handy buttons at the botton of the page. You can also Buy the authors a Coffee, or buy an ebook.
Every little thing helps.
Thanks for reading!