Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Groundwork, Part Two

Libby woke up at her workstation.

She'd been dreaming of her husband. It was a strange dream, really, and very silly. In it, they'd been clothes shopping for Grayson and Fynn. Both boys were off to school the next day, and Fynn had grown so large that he'd burst through his good pants. Grayson, ever petulant, wanted a new pair as well. The two boys argued about what colour pants they wanted so much that they both transformed into dodos and flew away.

The shop owner was a polite sloth named Tennyson. Libby rather liked him. Enough that she allowed him to kiss the back of her hand with his little slothy mouth. Then Dragomir had demanded a duel of Tennyson, and the resulting bloodbath was so ridiculous that it jarred Libby out of her doze.

She had a t-square stuck to her face. Growling, she brushed it away and stared at her workbench, as though it were to blame for waking her up. The workbench did not apologize.

Libby sighed, peering out the small porthole by her station. Unbroken desert peered back, the same dunes she'd been looking at for more than a month. They only changed when the wind picked up, and even then they didn't change enough to make the view at all interesting. Libby wondered why anyone would want to live in such a boring hellhole, or why they'd make guests come all the way out here for a visit.

I should have gone with him. Libby cradled her head, staring at the heavily-marked sheet of parchment between her elbows. It was covered in scrabbled design plans for a smaller version of the Dauphine, a transport with only four wheels and considerably less storage space. Why'd I stay here? Gods almighty, at least I wouldn't be so bored out there. Can't be bored if you're... 

She slapped herself. No. Shut the fuck up, Libby. He's not dead. Not again. Even he's not stupid enough to die TWICE.

... right?

A heavy set of feet interrupted Libby's thoughts. She turned, watching her son's gangly legs tromp down the stairs to Engineering. He smacked his head on the ceiling as he entered, now easily nine feet tall. His scowl, so like his father's, made her smile.

"Hi, mom." Fynn raised his hand in greeting. He seated himself beside her, legs crossed, and propped his head on her desk. "Hungry? Morris made falafels."

She snorted. "I'll make my own food. Morris sucks. Want some pie? I can make pie."

Fynn shuddered. "No, no you can't, mom. Your pie is really bad."

"Fuck you!" Libby folded her arms. "Everyone likes my pie!"

"They only say that 'cause they're more afraid of your fists than they are of your pie." Fynn smiled. "You're pretty great anyway, though. Anybody can make a dumb ol' pie. Who can build, like, big transport things? Who but you?"

"My pie is great," Libby insisted, muscles flexing. She wasn't really angry, though. Fynn was a good boy. He always made her happy when she felt bad. That was a rare quality. "What're you up to? Other than insultin’ your mama?"

Morris grinned. "Eheh. Guard duty! I'm actin' like dad. Best guard ever."

Oh, kid, you poor, ignorant fool. "... sure. Best guard. Watching the skies, I guess? Up on the observation deck?"

Fynn nodded, slapping his chin on the table. "Yep!"

"Got shade? It's hotter than a witch's balls outside."

Fynn nodded again. "Yep! Daena lent me her umbrella. Told me to watch out for anythin' weird."

"Good for her." Libby knew this conversation wouldn't go much further, and she grabbed her pencil to resume her work. "See anything?"

"Like what?"

Libby bit her lip. "You know what."

Fynn sighed. "No, no dad. But I know he'll be back soon! Him'n the rest!"

"Yeah." Libby tousled his hair. "Go on, get some food. Maybe you'll luck out 'n not have to pick desert beetle legs out of your falafel."

"I wouldn't bet on it." Fynn stood, hunched, and headed for the stairs. Then he snapped his fingers and turned back. "Oh! Right! I did see something! That's why I came down here! I guess the food sidetracked me."

He's got his father's brain, for certain. Libby spun in her chair. "Oh yeah? What'd you see?"

"A dragon!"

Libby started, sitting upright in her chair. The hair stood on the back of her neck. “What? Whaddya mean, a dragon?"

"I think it was a dragon, anyway!" Fynn stretched his arms as far apart as he could, which, given his size, was pretty far. "It had biiiiig wings, 'n I thought I saw spines on its back! Reminded me of that biggun we saw while we were savin' you that time!"

A dragon? Way out here? I didn't think dragons liked the heat. "Where was it headed?"

Fynn thought about that a moment. "Probably... this way?"

Libby fell out of her chair. She bopped Fynn on the head as she darted past and up the stairs. "Lead with that next time, dammit!"

Libby was standing on the observation deck a moment later, scanning the sky. She didn't see anything until Fynn joined her. He pointed off in the distance, and for a second Libby didn't know what he was looking at... at least not until the dragon beat its enormous wings. A thin stick floating a little ways over the desert's surface, it appeared to be gliding most of the way.

Libby swallowed hard. Barrel's friendly, but the rest of the dragons... I wonder if this one's okay. "Keep an eye on it. I'll tell the crew to man the cannons. Just in case."

Fynn nodded and saluted... though his salute quickly turned into a blockade, slapped down on her shoulder. "Hey, wait. I think there's more 'n one. There's another one. 'n... maybe... two more...? Mom, how many is... this much?"

Fynn held up his fingers. All of his fingers. When he started to wiggle his toes, Libby ran belowdecks.

"CANNONS!" she roared, staring around Command at the crew. Most were sleeping or otherwise idling, and her yell caught them off guard. "NOW! FUCKING CANNONS!"

Daena, chatting with Antonio on the other side of Command, tried to wave Libby over. When it didn't work she bellowed back. "LIBBY, WHAT'S GOING ON?"

She didn't have to wait long to find out. Two minutes later the eastern sky was dotted with the incoming forms of dozens of dragons, their enormous wingspans and twisting tails unmistakable even at such a great distance. They grew rapidly, and so did the sense of panic in the stranded Dauphine. Crew members ran from deck to deck, shrugging off heat fatigue in favour of fear.

The first dragon blasted by the Dauphine just as Libby was setting up her cannon. The force of its passage created a powerful tunnel of wind through the open cannon shutter, knocking Libby into the wall behind her. A cannon went off somewhere to Libby's left, another to Libby's right -

- but they fell silent just as quickly. Another dragon passed by overhead, and another, and another. The Dauphine creaked and shuddered, buffeted by the draconic advance. Cowering against the wall, Libby wondered if her wonderful machine might just fall apart under the concussive force of their wings.

Something heavy landed in the sand outside and to the left of the Dauphine. Another heavy something landed with it, and another, and another, and more behind the transport. The floorboards shuddered with each landing, and when the heavy somethings began to roar as one Libby thought the world might just be coming to an end. She curled into a ball, regretting all those times she'd berated her husband for cowardice, and waited for the dragons to attack.

They didn't attack. 

"Mom?" Fynn called after a moment of tension. His voice was shaky, fearful. "You... uh... mom? You here?"

Libby peeked out from between her work gloves. "... Fynn?"

He rounded a corner, crouching so low that he was practically crawling, and slid up beside Libby. He begged for a hug; Libby granted the request. She needed one too.

"Mom..." Fynn swallowed. "You better go upstairs. There's... somebody... who wants to see you. I think. You're in charge, right?"

Libby didn't want to go upstairs. She wanted to go home. She was tired of the stupid Dauphine. She wanted a house, a hearth, a proper bed, a workstation in a shed. She wanted a husband, two sons, maybe even a daughter. She wanted a life, not a nomadic ramble through the fucking desert suddenly cut short by dragons.

She went upstairs. Fynn held her hand.

They stood side-by-side on the observation deck together, looking out at a sea of dragons. Red dragons, green dragons, blue dragons, sandy dragons, diamond dragons, dragons chipped out of onyx and dragons carved from marble. They were tall, they were staring at mother and son alike, and they terrified the world.

The dragons weren't the scariest part of the scene, though. Knowing what she knew, Libby was far more frightened by what rode on the backs of the dragons: an army of rats, a million or more rodents strong. They scurried between wings, clung to horns, sunbathed on scales, hid in hair, and nestled on snouts.

One of the dragons - Barrel, my gods, it's Barrel - leaned in close to the observation deck. His nose came so near to the deck that a puff of hot breath blew away Daena's umbrella. A cluster of five rats hunkered between Barrel's nostrils, their eyes glowing white and sinister. Barrel matched their glare exactly.

When Barrel's mouth opened to speak, his voice a throaty, awkward boom plainly unaccustomed to human speech, their words rang through instead. "We are here for your husband."

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