Chapter 16: Ettaran Fan Carrier
Troubling dreams returned. Visions of mekton fighting in Night City were mixed in with man to man combat in gleaming halls. I gradually became aware of the fact I was dreaming and strained myself looking for hidden meaning and found none. My efforts only led to more confusing dreams. Now I was trapped in a swirling array of color. Faces of those I knew from the past, present, and...future? floated around me, each trying to make itself heard over the screams from all about us. Then I heard this loud booming sound like thunder and my name being called out.
I sat up in bed, wide awake and in a cold sweat. The sound repeated, but now it was someone knocking and calling my name, Celine I think. Maybe it was Aleoi. I called for them to wait as I got up and dressed. On the way to the door, I noticed that the furniture and crates have been moved. I expected them to move a little because we were on a ship after all. But things were moved too far to blame it on the waves or a fan jet imbalance.
The most peculiar things were that my computer was turned upside down and that some of my weapons had been arranged in a human-like shape. Celine, I'm sure it was her, repeated call jarred me back to reality. Again I called for more time as I tried to cover up what happened. The figure was kicked apart and I draped some clothes on the furniture to make it look like I was drying it before I opened the door. Sure enough, it was Celine. She stood there in a bathing suit. "Sure took your dear sweet time. Larani insisted that we let you sleep, but we were getting worried about you. You feeling OK, Nate?"
"Yeah, fine. Where are the others?"
"They're topside. The storm stopped and everyone on board is enjoying the good weather. Come on!" I asked her to wait as I got dressed.
My back was as good as new. The pain was almost gone and should completely fade away within the day. I didn't have too much that was appropriate. The best I could come up with was what I wore when I had on my full body armor, a faded black tee-shirt and old jeans. Celine didn't approve and dragged me off to see what the local shops could do to help.
I knew a bit about fashion. Meetings with high class clients frequently required fancy clothes. It didn't take long for me to select a pretty good outfit of blue trunks with chrome swirls and a loose fitting orange shirt. A pair of easily removable sandals completed it. I put on my mirror shades and headed for the sunshine. A warm breeze blew in from the south and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sea was choppy, but I didn't think a big ship like this would have to worry about it, especially if it rode above it on a cloud of air.
The port upper deck was set aside for recreation. A heated pool and spa was located stern near the engines. Lawn chairs were along the outside and the center had an area of tables and refreshments. People were everywhere, sunning, talking, swimming, and playing. This was nothing like I have ever experienced back home and the choices were overwhelming.
The pool was first. Before now the only place I went swimming in the VR simulation. The real thing was too dangerous with all the pollution and medical wastes being dumped in any available body of water and all. Just hope the computer program did a good job. Celine was already lying back in a chair, flirting with every guy that passed by. I also found myself being flirted with members of the opposite sex.
Aleoi warned us that such behavior was considered a time honored tradition on most fan carriers. I could see why the introverted Eiran would feel uncomfortable here. Well if I was being unofficially judged by a panel of attractive onlookers, might as well give them a show. During my talk with Laian I did a check of my right arm to make sure it withstood the rain and gave it some extra water proofing maintenance. So when I dove in, I was confident that I wouldn't electrocute everyone in the pool.
What I did not check was the depth of the water where I was diving. The bottom came rushing up to me before I was ready and only a my fast reflexes saved me from another wound. Nonetheless, I did scrape my feet as I pulled up. Nothing serious though, skin wasn't even broken. I broke surface to hear a little applause, sarcastic or not I couldn't tell. But I tried to forget my temporary lapse of judgement and tried swimming a few laps. Whew! It was sure easier in the teaching program, and it showed.
Having one arm being several times stronger than the other didn't help much either. Still, I enjoyed it. This was my first real time swimming but after an hour of perfecting every stroke I was taught on Earth and trying to learn via observation some new ones used here, I got tired. Some down time was called for. I stretched out on a chairs and leaned it back 135 degrees to watch the waves go by. With my glasses on, it was easy to pretend that I was asleep. Soon the flirting stopped.
Normally I would enjoy all this attention but right now I just didn't have the energy. My thoughts wandered back to the dream and how my room got rearranged. How did it happen? What did the dreams mean? This never happened before I got here so what was it about Algol that was doing this to me? These questions circled around in my mind as I tried to find answers. The only lead I could come up with was Laian. She was around me each day before I had one of those dreams. We were near each other for hours last night and look what happened in the morning. There was something about her, but what I did not know. Psychic powers aren't contagious are they? I did not know how long I spent there pondering this without success. But the next thing I felt was something cold being slid along the side of my leg.
I snapped out of my philosophical state and sat up in alarm, tearing my shades off. Instantly I focused on the person who interrupted my thoughts. Celine was there holding a frozen drink. "You haven't eaten yet have you?" she said simply handing me the glass.
"A word for the wise. Never surprise a man with a weapon in his arm."
She humphed and voiced concern about my tan. I admit she did have a point. For the most part, I was almost sunburned. But the artifical skin covering my right arm was still normal. The line separating man from machine was clear. Celine was still standing there, waiting for an apology. I hate to admit that I was wrong, it tends to show weakness. But in this case, it would be arrogance to do otherwise. This didn't mean I would have to like it! I muttered, "Sorry." hoping to get it done with, but she wasn't satisfied.
I repeated what I said, this time louder than I would have liked drawing unwanted attention. "That's better. Now drink up. We're having a volleyball game soon."
Curious about how similar this game was to Earth's version, I enjoyed the liquid meal sitting near the playing area. Most of the others were already there. They were trying to decide the teams and hardly noticed my arrival. I vaguely remember playing this game with childhood friends. Actually I was pretty good, maybe even professional quality. But with the popularity of other, more dangerous sports, rising, volleyball was quickly falling into the category of school sports and purely recreation activities.
The object and rules were still the same here with two minor exceptions, players rotated in the opposite direction and you were allowed four hits to get it over the net. Nothing I couldn't get used to. By the time it was Fireflight's turn to play, I had finished my drink and Larani and Cedric agreed who was on which side. They settled on the men versus the women. The others set aside their activities to join in.
Everyone was in Ettaran style bathing suits. A crowd gathered to watch the game. Tharis served first and the game began. I started in the forward right position and did my best to play well. But any skill I had was tarnished by years of nonuse and no experience with playing with cybernetics. However the same could be said for everyone else. The enhanced strength in my arm had proved itself time and time again, but here it was a liability. Whenever it was my turn to serve, I always it the ball out of bounds because of the lack of control I had over the myomer fibers. They were either on or off with very little in between. If it was off, the ball landed on our side of the net, on and it sailed over everyone's heads and into the crowd. As for spikes, the less said the better. After the third time, a house rule was created prohibiting that.
The crowd cheered for both sides for different reasons. Those who encouraged the opposite gender did so in hopes of making a good impression. Those who did otherwise saw this as a battle of the sexes and took it seriously. Tharis, Tammis, and myself got the most cheers from women while the women received roughly the same amount (Celine a little more, Karin a little less but there wasn't too much difference). The game took about half an hour and we were the victors mainly due to points I gathered before the no cyber-assisted spiking rule. It was a close score though, only a bit of bad luck separated the winners from the losers (which was good for a friendly game).
After which we cooled off with more frozen drinks. Everyone received complements from admirers about how well they played. Many of the Ettaran women noticed Eiran's growing confidence, but they were expecting too much when the flirting began. The next few hours was spent taking in as much Ettaran culture as we could between short trips to the buffet for a bit of lunch. Light conversation was made between myself and Attoui, Silvima, then Ramoi with short breaks between each one. This was fun.
Silvima was the most interesting. She was of mixed heritage, half Kargan and half Elaran. Treated as an outcast in each culture and since Muarin only allowed psionics, she found her way here. She was currently working here as part of the mekton piloting crew. When we arrived at Kagin, she would leave this carrier and join up with another one. I asked as to why she had this nomadic life style. There was no reason other than 'more interesting' and 'don't want to settle down'. I've known a few like minded people who occasionally passed through Night City, some real good friendships in a few cases.
She fit the standard victim of wanderlust well, even had her own mekton. With my experience with such things severely limited, I asked to see it. After a moment's thought she decided to honor my request. It was a short walk to the hanger. It was easy to find her mekton: it was pink. All the other mektons were regular Dhannans in the ship's colors which Eiran told me about. Hers was called a Switch Blade, a transformable robot. During my hospital stay, I used the time to research mektons in hopes to learn enough about their construction to reproduce them when, or if, I ever made it back to Earth. I had paid some extra attention to the Switch Blade as it alternate form was a helicopter strikingly similar to one the army used and thus would make a good starting point. This was Silvima's pride and joy. A good portion of her paycheck went into maintenance and tinkering of her pink robot.
The cockpit seated one. Normally it could seat two, but the extra space was converted into extras like a microwave oven, mini-fridge, leather seat, sound system, AC, extra power generator for improved sensors, and a few other things I couldn't identify. Silvima noticed that I was marveling at the improvements and commented, "If I'm going to spend as much time as I do in there, I want it to be as comfortable as possible."
Hard to argue with that logic. Her turn for patrol was coming up, so we agreed to meet again later tonight. So while she got ready, I returned to the party. I was chatting with Larani, Tammis, Eiran, and a few other people I haven't seen before about various topics I knew little about. A uniformed crew member approached us and handed Larani a letter. Eiran bowed politely, acknowledging Captain Thiran. What was so important about that letter which the captain of this carrier saw fit to hand deliver? The Algolian alphabet was sometimes difficult to comprehend despite the language skills the tube granted me on the way to this system. This letter was downright confusing. It wasn't until Larani muttered that this was in code that I realized the reason for this. We, minus our new friends, half ran to the decoding room. The actual translation didn't take long but there was something funny about the message. "Greetings Commander. I hope this message fins yu well. As of yesterday 3-20-20 the Rimfire is complete. The commader f the ship, Altiar Dass, sends his greetings; wih hopes to meet you soon. I have been inormed of Operation Rimfire, and understand everything. Colone Caball at the launch facilit expects your arrival. One nal message, we at Ovewatch await your peedy reurn. General Haversom"
Larani was satisfied with the communication and prepared to leave the room. I asked about the gaps in the letter only to have them be dismissed as interference errors, which were said to be common in orbit to surface transmission. I was not convinced. Even with Night City's lower technology it was possible to bounce a scrambled message around a dozen locations, both planetside and orbital, and not have a thing lost. How could such a culture, who suffered from a long war, not learn how to do the same. I sat down and set about filling in the missing letters. A minute later, it became clear to me that a secret message had been sent along in the form of the missing letters. There were still too many holes to hypothesize what the message was, "Dotly fist?"
But already was too much to be explained away as a simple error. A few more scans through uncovered the whole sentence, "Do not fly first."
I ran search for Larani or anyone else from Fireflight. By the time I caught up with Larani, I had knocked over two chairs, three people, and a small table. Any anger she had against my 'reckless behavior' vanished when she heard what I had found. Larani cursed herself for not seeing this as much as she praised me for acting on my instincts. But there were still questions to be answered. Who sent this? How did this person get the information about how something being wrong? Was it an Axis secret agent? A UAA double agent? An extra security measure ordered by Haversom? An Axis soldier who wants to switch sides? The possibilities were endless. A quick decision was made to keep this secret and to notify the base commander as soon as we docked, a hard thing to do considered the ruckus I caused getting this to her.
I convinced the locals that it was nothing to be concerned about, that she merely forgot the message. It was a hard sell, but then hard sells are my job. With the current emergency over we did our best to go back to relaxing. I do so half heartedly. The combined stress of my mysterious dreams coupled with a hidden message was getting to me. Stress was no stranger to my life. In Night City, I was always on the lookout for dangers like take overs, assassination attempts, random gunfire, possible enemies and sabotage, the cops, sales, all the things that came with being the best at your job in the local area. But this was different somehow. I was still not used to neither being part of a team sponsored by the government and under someone's authority nor these psychic disturbances. Finally I said to myself, "Listen Nate, worrying about this is not going to help. You did your bit so let someone else do theirs. Relax and have fun!"
Still wondering if I should, I took my own advice. This was a decision I did not regret. I swam some more and got the attention of some attractive women who responded favorably. There was no worry about whether or not I'd be sleeping alone tonight. After Eliza and Rillia, I needed some fun. The flirting and conversation continued on with people occasionally entering or leaving the picture. After sifting the available ladies (and they looked over myself and some other men who were not as handsome as myself in my humble opinion), I selected a tallish green haired woman in a silver one piece suit. Her name was Sepheoi and was part of the negotiator team for the selling of supplies. She was interested in the fact that this was also my line of work. We swapped stories and bragged about astounding successes. I could tell that Sepheoi was low on the pecking order by how often she worked and the kind of items she dealt with, mostly spare parts and foodstuffs. Her persuasion skill was not very good, but she did knew very well what she was dealing with.
It went unsaid that she was tired of her current position and wanted to move up. Who could blame her? However there wasn't much I could do. Since she was such an expert in her current duty, finding someone to replace her would be difficult. The key thing for her to do was to convince her superiors that what she did was important enough to warrant the department itself being raised in the pecking order. But since this was a routine job, it would be easy to find a replacement who wouldn't rock the boat. This was a tall order, even for me and I didn't think I could help her in the short time I would be here. So I changed the subject to something other than finance. I got her talking about her personal history. Sepheoi had gotten out of a relationship some months ago and her duties have kept her from having a stable relationship. She looked saddened as her thoughts drifted back to those lonely times. I picked up her spirts by telling her how beautiful she looked in the setting sun.
The conversation turned more romantic and we lost track of time. Tharis interrupted us and told me that there was a party was to be held in our honor. He led us to where the pool was. Right now the pool had been sealed off by metal plates and a dance area was set up there. There were tables and chairs set up in addition to a long table with snack foods with an ice carving of a bird as a centerpiece. The captain gave a speech about how Fireflight would help Algol and so on. Actually, I got the impression that we were just a convenient excuse for a party. No complaints were voiced however on our parts. The party itself was a disappointment. I mean it was fun, Sepheoi and I dance a lot and got to know each other well, but nothing got trashed. The Ettarans live a nomadic life and when nomads I knew partied, little escaped undamaged. As it was winding down, the floor was littered with confetti and balloons. No smashed tables, dropped pills, or unconscious (or dead) bodies. Nope, it was nice, neat, and organized.
But Sepheoi was there to keep me from getting down about this and invited me to spend the night in her room. Once there nature took its course and we were exhausted in a few hours. Sepheoi fell asleep first and I held her as I drifted off myself. There were no haunting dreams this time, at least none that I remember. But the next thing I knew was being thrown from the bed with Sepheoi right behind me. My left leg painfully rammed an end table smashing it. Sepheoi landed on top of me and was able to escape injury. In my usual subtle way, I inquired as to what was happening as I let out a few choice phrases from Night City.
There were no explosions or any sort of warning I knew of preceding this. The room, the whole carrier dipped to one side and everything in the room, including ourselves, began to slide to that side. A loud siren screamed through the hall as we rushed to get the bare minimum on before leaving to investigate the disturbance. Somewhere I lost track of Sepheoi on my way to the upper decks. As I pushed my way onto the deck, the first thing I saw was this giant reptilian head, about fourteen feet wide, with a mouth the size of a small car emerging from the morning fog. Rags and bits of meat between its teeth was a clear indication that it had already fed once. It seemed to be pushing one side of the carrier down into the water with its tremendous weight.
In the water, an Ettaran man held a young girl, silently treading water. By them (on the deck) was a young woman who spotted me and called for help. Everyone else was panicking yelling "Fog Hunter! Fog Hunter!" I pushed and limped my way to the railing. Laian had somehow arrived next to me. We peered over the ledge for a better look at the situation. The Fog Hunter was like sea serpents of legend, hungry sea serpents of legend. Laian was clutching the Mini-gatt finding security in the weapon. "Shoot it!" I yelled, "I'll get the people!" She looked like she just remembered she had a gun in her hands. It took a second to brace herself before she fired. My guess is that this is the first time she fired a weapon as powerful as this because for the first second the gun went wild spraying bullets all over the beast in random patterns. She was able to steady it on the rail as I launched my grapple hand at the overboard man.
It landed just to his left. For an instant, he looked disgusted by the thought of actually touching a dismembered metal hand, but self preservation won out and he grabbed the cord. The roar of the Mini-gatt was replaced by the whirr of the spinning barrel now empty of bullets. Fortunately the Fog Hunter had caught most of the lead with its body and was bleeding from an uncountable number of wounds. It howled pathetically as it vanished back into the fog. As I did my best to reel the man and girl back, I reminded Laian that it was gone and she could take her finger off the trigger now. She snapped back to reality and with a bit of embarrassment set the gun down and helped me pull them up.
The grapple was not built for pulling and we had to haul the man up a few feet and let my arm pull in the slack. It couldn't pull much, but it can withstand a heavy load. Tharis and Tammis arrived and helped us finish the job. The woman hugged the man once he was safe, then the girl. All three of them voiced their thanks as they went to the medical center. The others were doing what they could to rescue the overboard and helping contain the damage. Soon the fan carrier was level and moving out of the fog. There had been some causalities, few fatal, mostly fall related injuries like my leg. When they got around to it, a nurse told me that I just got a bad bruise and nothing was broken despite my opinion.
Only through my insistence was I granted a crutch to help in walking. First I returned to Sepheoi's room to retrieve my clothes. She wasn't there, probably surveying the damage, so I left a note. My own cabin was a wreak. Everything was scattered and it took some time before I could pack it all. I changed into some other clothes and took some time to lie down and wait for the pain to go away. Larani came by to congratulate me on heroic action. The morning put be in a bad mood so I brushed it off commenting that Laian should try to get some target practice. "Yes about that. It so happens that she took a liking to it and want's to know if you have any more clips."
Not getting up I waved in the general direction and said which box I put them in. I heard her rummage around while she expressed some interest in one gun or another, I wasn't looking. But soon she found what she was looking for. "Sergeant? Laian mentioned that you were planning to distribute your spare weapons. I was wondering about this item."
It was a medium SMG. Something Miltech uses. I gave her a brief history of it and let her know where the extra clips for that were. More rummaging sounds then footsteps heading for the door. Then they stopped and reversed direction. "That was a brave thing you did back there, Nate. Even without your injury. You certainly went beyond the call of duty on that one. Try to rest up, I'm giving you the day off." She paused for a second, "The others will want to stop by sometime today. Try not to be so grumpy, OK?"
Yeah, sure, whatever. My leg throbbed as she finally left. Doctors forgot to give my any pain killers. Well I did my best to be polite as the remaining members of Fireflight came in to collect their share of Night City ordinance. I don't really remember who got what, but I'm pretty sure that Tharis got the Tsunami Arms "Ragnarok" CAWS shotgun. It's not supposed to be released to the open market til next year. Don't know how anyone on the C-Team or in Miltech got hold of such a weapon. Needless to say that this would easily get 10 grand on the street, yet here I was hardly paying attention as someone took it. What was coming over me? Maybe I was satisfied that they were coming to ME, and not the UAA, to protect themselves. Maybe it was just that they were friends and I could trust them. But my guess is that my leg just hurt so damn much that I didn't care what they did.
Until evening, the brightest point of the day was when Sepheoi came by. We were glad to see each other. I listened to her as she describe how much damage the Fog Beast did to the cargo. The rocking of the boat burst some containers and half of the emergency food spilled out and eventually found a way to the ocean. "The boss was impressed about the way I handled everything. My bet is that he's going to make my position more important now."
I gave her my congratulations and wished her well. We wanted to do something but she couldn't stay long. There was still much for her to do. Plus there was the risk of someone dropping by with a question about something or other. So we kissed before she left my room. I never saw her again.
When evening rolled around my leg was feeling better and I could now walk without the crutch. Eiran came by and told me that Fireflight was invited to the captain's cabin. On the way there, I noticed that the fog had lifted and the sun was setting with the beauty it was known for. Once everyone was there he offered us a round of Ettaran honey nectar. He sat in a stuffed chair wondering when to begin. Finally he began to speak, "To tell the truth, we never really trusted you, until you went out of your way to help us when you could have let Miran and the other die." He looked at the Kargans for a moment before continuing, "You have tried to kill or enslave us as long as anyone on this carried has been alive, and we never really believed that would change. But maybe the promises of the UAA are true, and the old ways are gone. The Ettarans are not as dimwitted as many would have you think, and we have sources of information that the Kargan and Elaran intelligence services could hardly dream of. I know a little of your situation, but not everything. My mouth is sealed, I will not talk. But some information I have could be of use to you. The Axis' chief is a man named Dremmond, and he was the son of an Elaran lord in Fiora. He is very rich, possible the single richest man on either continent. It was said that he say his parents killed in the bombing, and that it drove him mad. He later fled to the islands with a fortune in gold and jewels. The rumor has it that he actually formed the Axis, to revenge himself on the Kargans for the death of his family. I have no idea if this is true or not. There are also rumors that he is a powerful ESPer, but once again, I can't say for certain if this is true. I do know that the Axis has full space capabilities, and that they have several cloaked and hidden orbital factories. Once of these is under Dremmond's direct command. Dremmond is a nihilist. He doesn't give a damn about life. Others think the Axis threats against the mirrors are bluffs. I think he'd really do it, just to prove he could."
We sat back, absorbing all this information. Nihilists are very dangerous. A leader could be wired to set off an explosion if he/she gets killed. They want to destroy everything and have no conscience. Defending Algol from Axis just got tougher. Larani thanked the captain for telling us this and we left. Not a word was spoken over dinner. Not eating all day can sure make you hungry. I made some inquires about Sepheoi and Silvima but no one saw either recently. Everyone was depressed about Dremmond's background. Those from Kargan asked themselves if they were really responsible for creating this monster and Elarans wondered if Dreammond was one of them. I couldn't tell what, Laian, Eiran, and Aleoi were thinking, maybe along the lines of, "What have I gotten myself into?"