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The crew hastened off Life Fisher and a maintenance group immediately hustled onboard and began washing, painting, or oiling almost everything. “Qisse, we’s gone have us a rewarding association. Let’s get a drink’er-three. Your woman can watch the wranglers.”
“What?” Taroe clenched her fists and clamped her jaws.
L’Qisse touched Taroe’s arm and cocked his head. “Value must be well guarded.” He turned to the captain. “Isn’t there a corral where the surf-runners may rest and eat? That way Taroe could come with us,” he said.”
“Your leaders. I must see...”
“Your woman is rude and filled with disrespect. Talks out and all. I’ll arrange for a private quarters. You can beat her tonight.” The Captain seemed satisfied with his suggestion and completely ignored Taroe’s protests which were many, pointed, and clear.
Small vehicles buzzed on and off the fishing vessel unloading its catch. A short bearded man in turban and ballooning trousers shook a bony finger, dancing about like a puff-bug on a griddle. “Captain, you return early with just twelve pallets of catch? Did you have trouble, injuries, damage? Our equipment is our capital at work. Have you turned socialist-slug on us?”
“Master Dis’Cha, the bulk of the catch is the wranglers, and their handlers.” The Captain pointed at Wave-Caller and Ashen-Dive. He paused and made an open handed motion towards Taroe and L’Qisse who whistled.
The wave-runners slithered up near Taroe.
“MY,” boomed Wave-Caller.
“Lay-dee,” hummed Ashen-Dive.
They both hooted and pinged from their blow holes then dipped their heads.
“This is a hovel. We are prisoners,” said Taroe.
L’Qisse spoke the first thought that crossed his mind, a reflex. “It’s only been a day.”
Taroe wanted a discussion, “They worked us from suns’ rise until suns’ set under a double-noon.”
“Training, we were training; weren’t we?” L’Qisse wiped sweat from his forehead and looked for his water bottle.
“No, we were driven like slaves.” The agitated Taroe pulled at her perspiration clotted hair.
L’Qisse responded again, “All four of us swam in circles and pretended to herd fish. We’ve been given food and drink, currency, and a place to sleep.”
Taroe squinted, frowned and then spat, “Snacks and pittance.” She paused then screeched, “And a hovel.”
“It may well be the easiest work day I’ve ever spent,” said L’Qisse.
“No respect. I was treated like a work animal; like a surf-runner,” said Taroe.
“I always work like that,” said L’Qisse. Why did I say that? She’s already upset.
There was a call from the door. When L’Qisse answered a fist clutching a long knarred stick protruded into the hut. “Your wife-beater, compliments of The Captain. Use it in good health, Yeoman L’Qisse.”
Taroe’s mouth fell open but she did not speak.
L’Qisse gripped the knarred stick and went away with the two men who had come to the hut’s door.
Much later when he returned L’Qisse said most softly, “I told them I would beat you,” and breathed in to explain but his alibi stilled on his tongue aided by a cold stare from Taroe.
The ice in her eyes made a strange reflection of the fire in her words, “The elders would kill you for such a crime.”
“They don’t see us for who we are; what we are. We must...” L’Qisse dared to take another breath.
“Really, I thought your new friends were making you rich and prosperous and important with a few dribbles of whatever that passes for beer in Sackinamen.”
“We’re in Port Manly on the island called Yahlar,” said L’Qisse.
“Manly? They call this sink pit Manly?”
Taroe’s rage laced each word. “A dirty streaked Arm pit; Oh yes, Port dl’ Dirty Armpit, home of the Sack-men, makers of stink; and of course, beaters of women.”
The voice of L’Qisse shook, “Quiet, or I must beat thee again.”
Taroe slapped L’Qisse; and then again; and yet a third time she slapped his face. She grasped the Wife-Beater stick and administered three rapid strokes: shin, abdomen, and when he doubled over, groin from behind.
“Let that be a lesson to you,” called L’Qisse writhing on the floor. Tears squeezed from his eyes and when he let out a whimper he followed it with, “Crawl outside if you must cry. I need quiet to sleep for tomorrow’s work.”
Taroe cut her eyes to the door where laughter rumbled. She knelt, took the head of L’Qisse into her lap, and wept softly.
“Good,” called L’Qisse, “I am glad I don’t have to beat you more.”
There were more chuckles from beyond the hut wall. Soon, among the sounds of retreating footsteps, they faded away into the night.
Four former cave dwellers paused in their training. The two wave runners swam towards each other until their nostrils touched. Taroe and L’Qisse stretched in their saddles.
L’Qisse stared across the bay, “That steel mesh fence is five running strides above the surface but underneath it goes all the way to the bottom. Those floating barrels are weapons. The Captain said they contain a chemical fire like the ships’ projectiles the other night. They kill living things in the water and crush submersible ships.”
Taroe scratched her ear, splashed water at L’Qisse, and said, “They call all that wire an undersea what?”
“An anti-undersea-boat-screen; a mouthful in any language. A pull on the fence can pull a barrel deep enough to cause it to explode.” L’Qisse continued to stare.
“Wave-Caller jump-it.” The sea creature slapped the water with his tail and flippers to emphasize his boast.
Taroe kept her seat and patted her mount on his long neck. “Settle down, Stud Flipper.”
“Easy jump-it, easy jump-it.” The big male surf-runner flopped about in mini-leaps clearing the water each time.
Taroe hung on and said, “What about Ashen-Dive?”
The delicate female surf-runner primly shook her head ‘no’ while barely moving her long neck.
“You’ve jumped higher than that in the cavern, Addy,” said L’Qisse.
Ashen-Dive made a face, clamped her jaw shut, and made a series of juicy noises out the blow-hole in the back of her head. “Squee-puc, squee-puc, wee-puc.” She wasn’t in agreement.
The Captain buzzed up on a motor launch and called them back to their training. They swam in circles while Double Noon heated the bay water and the air.
Wave-Caller stuck his head below the water as he swam and pinged. His head popped up. “Fish,” he said and dragged Taroe into a dive. Ashen-Dive followed. They chased a school of game fish around the bay.
Fishing boats and cargo vessels blew their warnings but the pair cut off shipping and pulled their riders along. When they chased their prey onto the beach, they waddled up after them and snacked on fresh fish.
“I don’t know if The Captain will tolerate much of this. Look; he puzzles with that electric box in his hand. The civil authorities gather too,” said Taroe.
L’Qisse and Taroe stood close together on the beach and watched the verbal interchange between the Captain and the obvious leader of the uniformed bay patrol. Taroe took L’Qisse’s hand in hers. She kissed his ear.
“They are impressed with the catch of fish,” said L’Qisse.
Money changed hands, “The patrol pays our Captain it seems,” said Taroe.
The Captain stumbled from his boat into the surf and ran towards L’Qisse and Taroe, “How long can they keep that up? How come the school of fish didn’t scatter and can they do it on command? This is like milking the money tit on The Sorcerer’s Hare. And that’s just a hunter’s tale. We’ve got to get you people some clothes. Reporters are coming.”
“More clothes? For what? It’s hot enough to light-toast any clothes I’ve seen around here. Just look at the rags the Sack-men are wearing; color weak and heat puckered. They need some heat salve. He said ‘report’ with an ‘er’ as if it were a person... When you went to the beer vat last night, did anyone mention what a ‘report...er’ is? Do you think that might be anything like a shaman’s assistant or a historian?” said Taroe.
“That’s a historian that specializes in trivia,” said L’Qisse.
To the Captain L’Qisse said, “The wave suits serve well in the waters.” The Captain’s reply contained too many Sackinamen words for the cavers to understand.
“Do you think it’s shameful to work uncovered?” asked Taroe.
“You were sitting next to me when we were children and the Shaman spoke to us about this very thing. No, the Shaman said there is nothing shameful only provocative.” L’Qisse shrugged.
Taroe looked at L’Qisse and squinted. “I meant here among the Sackinamen. But who cares?” Taroe looked to the sea.
“The Sackinamen,” said L’Qisse.
Before first moon’s rise the cavers made their way to the bay. They slipped into the waters and swam to the approaching surf-runners. At first no one followed and they moved easily into the channel.
A boat passed them cruising slowly but in a moment it showed search lights and turned about sharply. In another heartbeat it gave repeated horn blasts. Red and blue rotating beacons illuminated on the vessel’s loud speaker blared some warning in Sackinamen.
The surf-runners huffed snorting out their blow holes. L’Qisse and Taroe leaned forward in their saddles, tucked in their arms, and gripped with their knees. The run began. Wave Caller worked his flippers cutting a swath through the bay. Ashen-Dive followed closely drafting, avoiding the big male’s wake.
The patrol boat soon fell behind the powerful marine creatures and their riders. Two dim red lights marked the submarine net’s center. The gate-boat lay at the south end showing a single creamy lamp.
Thirty paces from the barrier Wave Caller ducked beneath the water’s surface pinging to set up the final run. Ashen-Dive followed. Down, down like jet driven stones and then up, up like frightened birds the pair of surf-runners swam, and their riders broke the surface.
Wave Caller cleared the steel net with room to spare. Ashen-Dive struck the netting with her tail and depth charges and fencing bounced. But they were over and hooted from their blow holes.
The escapees sounded, diving deeply out sight, out of mind, and free of the bay. They surfaced into the Sea God’s Breath, a current that pulled them towards the open ocean and First Moon’s rise at the horizon.
Despite second moon rise the night sky showed her constellations. When The Creator’s Beard, a cluster of twelve stars inside a nebula, arose from the east, The Tiger’s Eye, a planet, followed and stood for a time over The Archipelago of the Sky Swimmers.
“The Shaman said that there is a chain of seven main islands with innumerable islets and that the sanctum is on the fourth, the center isle of the seven largest.”
Taroe’s soft revelation evoked a sigh from L’Qisse. “I thought we were going to remain slaves,” he said. “And now we are free again.” L’Qisse produced a flat metallic mariner’s astrolabe and a glass compass held together with brass bands exposing the needle and rose. He checked the compass and began to plot their position by sighting the stars.
“Where did you get those?”
They both said together, “The Shaman.”
After second sunset Sky
Dolphins played with the surf runners; jumping at them, clicking and pinging and even tossing bits of freshly caught fish.
When the cavers entered the lagoon a peaceful scene greeted them. Fish jumped from the water and night birds flew about. Even after they watched Captain Royad Surtell’s vessel Life Fisher run upon the beach, it all still seemed peaceful.
But now the wake of a Sacinamen gunboat rocked Taroe, L’Qisse and the surf-runners outrunning them through the channel. But it paid them no mind and soon ran itself onto the beach adjacent Life Fisher.
“Why doesn’t that tear up their boats?” wondered Taroe aloud.
“Ships, they like to call them ships. Perhaps they are made with that purpose in mind,” said L’Qisse.
Near the middle of the lagoon smooth rocks stood from the still water, an island within an island. L’Qisse led them onto the rocks.
Taroe’s voice shook, “Why haven’t they seen us? They have a machine that sees. Didn’t they post lookouts? ”
“I saw no lookouts and they show too much light to discern anything distant. The Sackinamen told me their seeing machine cannot detect flesh and does better finding metal, stone, or storms. How could they beat us here?” said L’Qisse.
“We told them. We told them where we were going,” Taroe moaned.
“Where is the sanctum?” asked L’Qisse.
“Somewhere close to the lagoon. I don’t know any details. I thought you knew,” said Taroe.
“Somewhere in the lagoon. That painting, the one at home on the cave wall, with all the lean spars and the flowers and the dancers...the beach here is the same but...” L’Qisse’s voice trailed away and he pointed. “Look there’s a skiff coming this way.”
They stepped carefully along the rocks and soon were in the Surf-Runners’ saddles. They dived. Wave Caller and Ashen-Dive pinged searching the bottom of the lagoon.
Up again, down again they surfaced and submerged, still pinging. But a map of the floor of the lagoon formed in L’Qisse’s mind. He clapped, whistled and clicked his mouth. Soon they were heading to a promising spot on the underside of the island within an island.
An echo-image on the seaward side revealed itself: a cave’s entrance under an overhang. When they broke surface inside the cavern, a mellow ore glow and cool fresh air greeted them.
A voice in Sackinamen from far above said, “They were here on these rocks. I saw them with the low light goggles. You did too.”
“Them swimming things goes underwater. They may have seen us and swum aways.”
Then they heard the Captain’s voice say, “No difficulty; we block the channel and walk the beach.”
Amid a palest blue ore glow swarming with the yellow green flashes of tiny lightning bugs in flight, L’Qisse and Taroe approached what appeared a smooth flat rock.
L’Qisse said, “This is almost.... it seems... a bed.”
“Look at the carvings down on the footboard: a sleeping couple, a sleeping child, ugh, someone giving birth. Ooo a couple... never mind,” said Taroe.
“They’re making love. It’s a marriage bed,” said L’Qisse.
“There is no such item as ‘A’ marriage bed. What’s done in it makes a ‘marriage bed.’ We’ve got to be safe first. Not hunted.” Taroe hung her head into her hands. “What if we get captured? A child just makes everything worse.”
L’Qisse ignited his chem light, selected its high beam, and swept it about. “Look, My Lady.”
Eight flat surfaces surrounded them. What had seemed ore-glow now proved to be a string of lights. The fireflies were living but a man-made structure and not a cavern enclosed them.
L’Qisse patted the bed and it softened under his touch. After more jostling an image stood at the foot-board and began to speak. “Welcome, welcome to the Royal Marriage Bed.”
Taroe stood and drew her knife but the image continued to speak even after several ineffective stabs cut the space it seemed to occupy. “It seems this may be an inappropriate time,” said the image. “Say ‘Recording One’ to play the entire message.”
Taroe’s head snapped about staring at L’Qisse. “You let me attack by myself?”
“I could not have stopped you. I realized it was a projection. You gave it a good six blows.”
“You realized? You? I realized too.” She sheathed her knife, crossed her arms and tightened her lips.
They sat on the edge of the bed and looked about. L’Qisse picked up Taroe’s hand.
Clicks and thrums came from the far side of the chamber. The surf-runners entwined their necks. Wave caller stroked Ashen-Dive’s neck with the smooth part of his horns. She slapped the water with her fore flipper.
“Their mating ritual is almost over. Coupling is all that remains,” said L’Qisse.
Taroe squeezed L’Qisse’s hand. “What about us?”
He touched her face with his fingers and rubbed her chin with a knuckle. She kissed his palm and he pulled her to him and kissed her briefly. "This is so nice," said L'Qisse.
“I’m sorry I beat you. You protected me, us. I’m sorry a hit your...” she reached and touched. “It feels well... hmm and robust.”
L’Qisse returned her kiss and opened her wave suit with a gentle tug. He closed his hand about her small soft breast. The nipple popped between his fingers. She sighed softly.
A voice called from the water. “Hey now, I’se found ‘em. I has.”
L’Qisse sprang from the bed and pulled his knife. Taroe fastened her wave suit, rolled off the bed opposite from L’Qisse, and drew her knife too. She said, “What all this? Tanks and hose and... a breather. The Sackinaman has a breather.”
The Captain’s voice called from high above, “Can you bring them out?”
The surf runners swam close up behind the diver. L’Qisse and Taroe waded closer. “I’s trapped. I is,” he said.
“Fight your way out.”
“Captain, I’m out of air I is.”
The conversation ended for Wave Caller slapped the diver with his tail. He sent the frogman tumbling up the beach. The Sackinaman flopped over the tail board onto the Marriage Bed.
“I’m no longer in the mood.”
“Neither am I.”
Taroe spat her words, “Watch the Carvings. Don’t scar the bed. Couldn’t you think of a better place to tie him up? Where can we... ohh, errr.”
“Does ye have anythin’ ta drink? I’se a powerful thirst I am.” The diver half-heartedly struggled against his bonds.
L’Qisse pulled another strand of electrical wiring and said in Sackinamen-talk, “Would ye cross yer leg? I’se only this length o’ cording left to use.”
The diver complied. “I’se yer noble prisoner; I is.”
“Thanking ye,” said L’Qisse.
“Should we gag him?” said Taroe.
“O’ please dinna gag me. G’ me a drink an’ I’se quiet I am.”
Taroe and L’Qisse argued a bit about nothing at all. Taroe kicked the footboard and the imager began to function again. “You couldn’t think of a better place to tie him up? Anywhere is better than there!” fumed Taroe.
The two continued their fruitless argument. “When we were four years old you took my sweet-cider and never said thank you,” complained L’Qisse.
Taroe shot back, “When we were six, you said your would never marry me because I was a girl.”
The diver watched the presentation transfixed and was impressed even if Taroe and L’Qisse weren’t. “Womanize me and fry me for a mushroom. This whole place is a flying machine. The Captain will want to steal it. I means appropriate it. Hot fish; we’ll win the war for sure now.”
“What did you say?”
“They’s a controlling board up on the side there behind that there screen.” The prisoner jerked his head towards two green hex-shaped free standing panels. “The talky picture thingy shows how to work ‘ems. It be simple it is I’se ken show yers.”
Taroe placed her forehead in the center of L’Qisse’s chest and whispered, “We can neither fight nor disagree again or the Sackinamen will steal our heritage.”
“We’re doomed,” muttered L’Qisse.
Third moon added its silver trail across the lagoon. The three lunar light reflections all seemed to point at The Captain and the four with him stooped over a gap between the rocks. “They ain’t said nothin’ for a while.”
Wave Caller spat a mouthful of salt water that rained on them. He laughed hooting out his blow hole, “Hope-a ho-ho.”
“Parley,” called L’Qisse.
“That’s better mean you surrender,” yelled The Captain.
L’Qisse clicked his tongue and hooted, “Pop-Boo, Pop-Boo.”
His surf-runner hocked and spat a wad of noxious sputum that hissed and bubbled, crackling near the Sackinamen.
“Worm spit? You gonna cow me with worm spit?” The captain laughed but the ‘spit-wad’ burst into flame. The burning rock began to melt too.
“You have no choice,” began L’Qisse. The captain raised a weapon. L’Qisse clicked his tongue. Wave Caller dived. The Captain’s projectiles slapped the water.
When L’Qisse returned to the cavern the frogman pleaded his case, “But I’se got no more air, son. If’n I goes, I’m dead o’ water breath.”
“How can we let him out?”
L’Qisse’s question was aimed at no one but Taroe answered, “The pilot’s duty station is indeed behind those twin hex shaped screens. Flight can be controlled by speaking into an artifact. It seems to think.”
“Flight of what? Voice-flight? Controlled where?” L’Qisse glanced at the hexagons.
“Display map,” called Taroe.
A hologram hovered before the two screens. It glowed; a soft pale blue highlighting their route.
L’Qisse looked up and rolled his eyes. “Oh, that flight. What are you talking about? A holo, map-o-thing of what?” He grimaced but admitted, “We didn’t fly here. Will you please explain this to me? And where did it come from, the image-in-the-air that isn’t really there? You conjure another one, just like the other one. Reef flies.” With a half bow L’Qisse bent slightly at the waist and presented his hands palms up. He frowned at Taroe.
“Just come with me.” Taroe grabbed L’Qisse by the hand. “Open,” she said.
On the flight deck thick dark blue carpet protected the floor and multi-colored dials and gauges covered the forward panels. The cabin with its two pilot’s seats provided a comfortable spot for Taroe and L’Qisse. They sat.
With joysticks, pedals, and a set of centered levers marked ‘THROTTLES’ numbered 1 through 12, both pilot’s duty stations gave a formidable businesslike air. The other four crew positions were all upholstered with the same lush sea blue-green leather as the pilot’s and were equipped with their own panels; with both mechanical and video instrumentation before them. There were computer keyboards and monitors for all six seats. Windows circled the cabin, and looked out underwater at piled rocks.
“Status,” said Taroe.
A clear, mellow but artificial, voice replied, “All power plants, systems, and sub-systems functional, normal, and selected to ‘STANDBY’; upgraded from ‘SLEEP STORAGE’ with your arrival. Pre-flight auto-test complete, My Lady.”
“That’s so familiar,” said L’Qisse.
“L’Qisse, I’ve been in here since you left. It will become clear soon. What if all of these chairs were quartz sitting-stones and most of the instrumentation were paintings sitting on three legged easels?” Taroe moved to the center of the cabin, “and the Shaman were standing here?”
Tears stood in L’Qisse’s eyes. “Can I sit in the command throne, My Shaman? I want my dials to move.”
“You should use the word ‘may,’ Trainees. But yes, Pilot L’Qisse. your shaman designates you Commander of the Star Swimmer for the training period.
“But your queen, Taroe of
With quivering hands she gently pulled the stunned L’Qisse to her, “We are The Promised Ones; the ones who will someday return us to our rightful homes.”
Her eyes darted about L’Qisse’s face; hair, nose, lips. “Beloved, I’ve always loved you.” She paused and with eyes more darkened that a stormy sea she murmured, “I’ve wanted you since I learned of physical love.” She drew a ragged breath, “And I’ve planned for you from the time I knew what to do.”
L’Qisse touched her breast but looked into her eyes. Taroe wrapped her arms about him and kissed his mouth. She pulled at his clothes. A sound so far away; they didn’t notice something slip into the water.
Ashen-Dive butted the cockpit doors. “Boe-wrong, boe-wrong.”
Within a cloud of arms and legs from beyond the veil of sleep L’Qisse answered, “Go away! Hush! Later, much later.” His lips touched Taroe’s breast and stayed.
“More, again-more.” whispered Taroe.
On the other side of the cockpit door Ashen-Dive whimpered, “Bo-bu boe-boo. Sack-minh.”
“Sackinamen?” muttered L’Qisse.
Hand in hand L’Qisse and Taroe ran from the flight deck. The sea pool bubbled and Wave Called pinged, hooted and boop-pooed. His tail stuck up through the surface and he slapped the water again and again. A frothy geyser burst forth followed by the surf-runner’s head. He hooted a baritone blast of sputum and pool water. It burned on the surface.
“Ship’s status,” called Taroe.
A metallic voice answered, “Forcible entry attempted through the sea gate. The newly acquired sea security animal is successfully repelling boarders. Recommend closing the Sea Gate, My Lady.”
Taroe rubbed her eyes and yelled, “Enforce recommendation.”
When Wave Caller bounded from the pool pings bounced off the walls and water splashed in every direction. He turned back and spat out a ball of fire. It rolled about on the artificial pond’s surface hissing.
A general alarm wailed; overhead lights flashed alternating white and red. A white discharge, a tight roiling white cloud of powder streaked from the ceiling and snuffed Wave caller’s spit wad.
The metallic voice announced, “Fire’s out; Temperature normal.”
Immediately the alarm wailed anew, “Clean up crew not available. Clear the Moon Pool. All personnel return to normal duty.”
The water’s level began dropping.
Color coded instruments stared out from the panel in front of the new pilots, Taroe and L’Qisse. Multiple images on cathode ray screens and LCD’s showed a 360 degree view in three planes outside about The Sky Swimmer. Mostly submerged rocks showed but a single screen displayed a path out into the lagoon. “Is the pool refilled yet?” asked L’Qisse.
Taroe leaned backwards and checked a video display. “We didn’t have a pool; even a simulated pool... The computer calls it a sea-interface. But the water level is ‘SAFE’ and ‘FILLING COMPLETE.”
They sat back in their seats and Taroe said, “It’s just like the computer game in the cavern.”
L’Qisse touched the main control lever. The ship slid out from underneath the rocks towards the middle of the lagoon.
“Look, at the overhead screens. The Sky Swimmer is caught with fishing nets.” Taroe sighed.
“All stop,” said L’Qisse.
“What, My Captain, are you thinking?” Taroe tried to frown but her face split into a warm smile when L’Qisse looked at her.
L’Qisse’s face melted into a grin. “That the gunboat can’t train its death tubes on us from this angle, My Lady.”
“Useful observation, My Captain.”
“It’s about time ye come to yer senses. Qissey, we pulled ye from underneath our enemies’ guns. You couldn’t have got here without we helps yer.
“I tells ye what. If’n yer surrenders with no further ah-do; it be just like a-fore. Ye gets paid and everything the same. We go to the bar together; everything. It’s the best I can do. I likes ye and yer smart mouth little woman too. Think on it.”
Taroe laughed, “He’s telling the truth.” She paused to chuckle again, “From his point of view.”
“It may be pure truth. In ten generations no one that got past The Boilings and returned has reported the Sackinamen or anyone else.”
“By making a portion of our journey in a Sackinamen vessel we have avoided something.” L’Qisse put his hand on his chin.
“Parley?” asked Taroe.
“As long as The Captain,” L’Qisse pointed, “understands what that word actually means.”
L’Qisse spoke into a microphone, “We have our own priorities, Captain. If our negotiations fail we must leave; perhaps destroying your shipping by flying off with the netting and probably your fishing boat too.”
“Qissey, me gunboat has artillery trained on yer’s.”
“The Sky Swimmer defenses are automated.”
The Captain rubbed his chin, “What’d he say?”
The mate scratched his, “Quite a bit. He said th’ dish boat flies, and does a bit o’ it’s own fighting.”
“Qissey didn’t say nothing about no flying,” complained the Captain.
The mate pointed, “It’s coming out of the water. I calls that flying me-self.”
The Sky Swimmer raised fully thirty full strides clear of the lagoon’s surface. Taut fishing nets strained about her and the Captain’s vessel, Life Fisher, pitched up with its bow clear of the surface by a hand’s breadth and hung by its own rigging.
“Release me boat or we opens fire,” yelled the captain.”
“Boss, yer thinks Qissey heard?”
“I can’t really know unless he answers now can I? That dish is a might skinny but d’yer think it could fly away with Life Fisher? He’s got us by the short hairs he does.”
Alarms rang from the gunboat. A tinny loudspeaker moaned, “The Eyerm...”
The remainder of the message faded under several explosions. Plumes of water stretched skywards. A log thin pipe shaped artifact extruded from Sky swimmer and discouraged by the fishing nets fell into the lagoon.
A heart beat later it sprang from the water trailing blue fire and flew just missing the trees. In an instant it disappeared.
The resulting retort fairly blurred reality: sight, sound, and taste seemed to merge. The Captain’s aide complained, showing a handful of gray metal bits and a tooth, “It’s mauled me fill-ums, it has.”
Poised and patient, the disc shaped flyer Sky Swimmer still wore fisher’s netting as if it were captured prey.
“Aggressor destroyed, tap D-7 for details.” Taroe responded to the computer and her video screen filled with information. The upper right hand corner showed a video of the attack from the rocket’s point of view: the collision with the fish net, the plunge under water, and the flight to and impact on the aggressor.
“An escorted frigate, whatever a frigate is. But the two escorts are circling an oil slick,” muttered Taroe.
A metallic voice announced, “This is the Sky Swimmer.” Taroe and L’Qisse flinched. They looked at each other and then glanced about. The robotic voice continued, “We are repositioning for safety considerations. Manual control will be unavailable for the required time.”
The crew cut loose the cables holding the fishing nets. The bow of Life Fisher fell thirty paces and smacked down. The large wave impacted the gunboat sending water and spray about the lagoon. The warship plunged and rocked, then its forward turret fired a single round. The projectile passed through Life Fisher’s bow just below the rail and exploded when it hit the water on the other side.
“Now what?” said Taroe.
“The flight management system is asking the same question,” said L’Qisse and pointed at the screen.
“It’s suggesting an underwater trip if we stay on the planet and it also shows a second flight programmed to an off world destination. But there’s a little flagged/box with a list of negatives: not space worthy, not sea worthy, no high altitude flight, no high speed flight. And the queen-message to rule over the others,” he pointed, tapping the screen.
UNDETERMINED STRUCTURAL DAMAGE
EXTREME EMEGENCY OPERATION ONLY
“My Captain, wouldn’t you say that ‘not sea worthy’ means ‘not undersea worthy’ as well?” Taroe giggled. She touched L’Qisse's arm, then encircled his wrist with her fingers. “I love you,” she said. "Closer."
L’Qisse bunched his brow,
“I’ve engaged the planned auto-flight back to
Taroe stared at L’Qisse. “Hum? Oh, I guess we could moor it to the reef until repairs can be finished. Would you like to...”
“Yes. I would.”
“I didn’t finish what I was saying.”
“You’re taking your wave suit off.”
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