Friday, September 6, 2013

Day Five-Twenty-Five: Shadowpus

Everybody on the Dauphine has a job.

Jobs are one of the constancies in our new, nomadic life. Everybody has a job, and they have to carry it out. They can offer to do other jobs; they can take up hobbies; they can swap shifts with people. They can even call in sick if something's really wrong. Everybody still has a job, though, and if they don't do that job, there will be trouble.

There hasn't been any big trouble. Yet. I suspect it will come, in time. But it probably won't come from Plato. Hell, I get the feeling he won't be trouble on a number of fronts.

Plato's job is that of compass. Every morning he gets up and gives Queen Daena a heading. So far, the heading has consistently been 'west'. Until we reach the Imperium, he probably won't provide many specifics. I get the sense that Plato hasn't spent much time in the Indy Plains.

That's his job. When he's done, he can, theoretically, lollygag for the rest of the day. But he doesn't.

I see Plato working all the time. Yesterday I spotted him as a labourer, following Libby's instructions as her belly grows and her ability to move falters. The day before that he assisted Queen Daena in steering the Dauphine. The day before that he was a janitor, quietly swabbing the decks of mud from newly-boarded feet. Yesterday was the first time I ever saw him take a break during the day.

That's also when I saw his green eyes. He had those same eyes when I found him at another job earlier tonight, up on the observation deck. He'd taken watch duty from Grylock.

"You oughta hide those better," I whispered from behind, standing at the top of the stairs leading down to Command. "I can see 'em glowing on your paper."

Quacking loudly, Plato whirled around to face me. A pencil he'd been holding flew over the side of the Dauphine and plunked down the hull, rolling off to an unknown fate. The green light in Plato's eyes faded back to dull white, but I'd already seen them, glowing in the dark.

I loomed over the struggling platypus, gripping the edge of the stairwell to keep my balance as the Dauphine lumbered across the countryside. "You're one of 'em. The Non. Aren't you? I know they can transform and shit, so don't bother lying."

Plato blinked a few times, as though his vacant expression might somehow absolve him of my discovery. When I remained unconvinced, he lowered his bill and nodded. His skin and clothes faded to a deep, familiar black.

I spat, wondering if I should just pitch the little bastard over the side of the observation deck and be done with him. "Fuck. Great. Just great. One of the enemy, the BIG BAD GUYS, is on board. 'n he's the one showing us the way. To what, eh? To what? You really taking me to Iko? Or are you settin' us up for a trap?"

Plato shook his head. A vigorous no.

"Yeah, like I should believe that. You… you people… you nearly killed us all! Why should I believe anything you say from here on in? Or would it be better if I locked you up?!"

Plato raised his wrists, hands drooping. Lock me up, the gesture pled. Clap me in irons.

I slapped his hands down. "Knock that shit off. Gods. This… this is a betrayal, you know? If you'd… if you'd just fucking TOLD me, maybe I wouldn't be freaking out. MAYBE I'd be all 'Oh, okay, thanks for being honest, dude. Thanks a bunch.'"

Or maybe I'd have sliced him in half with the thing in my hands. I don't know. I was in a bad mood when we had our first conversation.

Pushing him aside, I leaned on the railing and stared at the darkened horizon. We'd be stopping, soon, and the Dauphine would fall asleep for the night. And the person on watch… he'd be a Non. The very race I was setting out on this journey to fight. People they may be, but the Non have turned my life into utter hell, and for all I know…

It was while I mused over Plato's fate, the penitent and silent platypus at my side, that something very odd happened.

I heard a squeak.

I've spoken of squeaks before. A long, long time ago, I went on another journey, though not one blessed with such a radical form of transportation. I was forced to endure a persistent squeaking throughout that trip. But it wasn't my armour that'd squeaked, or my shoes, or my helmet, my backpack, this diary, my sweat or my tears. I couldn't figure out what that damned squeaking was.

It was a rat.

And this, too, was a rat.

 When I peered back at Plato, I saw a fat grey rat sitting on his head, watching me. It was not one of the rats from beneath the golden tree, as its coat was not stained with streaks of white, and it seemed alert and healthy. Its eyes, though, its eyes held the same fiery intelligence, the shrewd ambition of a creature with human smarts - or better.

I pointed. "… is that your rat?" 
Plato shook his head. ""

"Ahh." I pursed my lips. "Are you… like… friends, then?"

Plato peered up at the rat on his bandana. It looked down at him. They both shrugged. The rat waggled its paw in a so-so motion.

"But…" My mind raced with the weird discrepancy of the moment. "But you… and you… aren't you guys… um… enemies?"

Another shared glance. The shrugs were slower, less decisive, and Plato's came with a hint of a head shake.

"I see." My anger was replaced by genuine curiosity. "Well. That's… that's some kinda weird, that is."

They nodded. No argument there.

I looked around for an excuse to question them on their… relationship. Whatever it is. The only thing I found, propped against the lip of the railing, was a piece of parchment. It had a sketchy drawing of a landscape on it, and a pretty decent one at that. It reminded me of an artist I once knew.

"Draw me a dodo," I requested, and went back downstairs.

Rat. Non. They've always been on opposite sides of this war. White and green… these two things do not mix, except in the eyes of false little girls who claim to be your daughter.

In summary?

I don't know what the hell's going on anymore. And I'm afraid to ask. But at least I feel a little better about having a platypus on watch duty.


Dragomir the Wanderer

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