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Fanfare Please!

This post requires that I add something important before I start it, so this is me adding it...

...Because I've actually added a NEW, NEVER BEFORE SEEN chapter of Avocet. I'm nowhere near being over my writer's block, but eh, I'm getting there.

There. Now THAT's out of the way I can get on with the post itself.

Yeah yeah, I've done this one (or varients thereof) about a dozen times in the past already, but then I never really carried it off the way I wanted to. Playing down her nonbiological nature, here, since you wouldn't normally NOTICE it "in real life", and trying to play UP her emotional side. Trying to get a bit of the ethereal into it, since that's how she often comes across, in my mind's eye.

In other artly news, I have been loved. Giftiness from the Rockerbot. Yay! (I hope you don't mind me putting this here, Ms Bluesky - I can move it otherwise. )

And now for something completely different!

For those unfamiliar with Avocet, this story has been "in progress" since September 2002, and I've had writer's block on it for 95% of the time in between. BUT! I have a new chapter! At last! *faints* Unfortunately, I have still not lost my love of italics. Sorry. But anyway! On with the story!


Ride the Avocet

Chapter Eighteen

     Back in the tumbledown K’Krri “village”, Aileena was putting into place her freshly-made plans for escape. She had sat and moped for only a short while – the length of time it took to get her brain running back in the right gear again. Sitting around waiting to a rescue that might not come in time wasn’t the way she liked to do things. That Ren would never abandon her, she had absolute faith, but she’d lost her location beacon a while ago – probably during that inelegant drag from the place they’d brought her down to her current prison – and that they’d find her in time to save her from whatever fate lay in store for her she wasn’t so sure.
     During a brief, scrabbling search for a loose bar, she’d found a ragged chunk of old broken pot, hidden in the long grass at the end of her prison, and was now using it to saw through the bindings holding the bars in place. It was tough going, since the pottery was weather-blunted and the vines were stiff and dry, but she was making fair progress. She’d managed to cut through two of the vines, most of the way, in a tucked-away not-easily-monitored corner, but didn’t yet dare stand up and saw at the top fibres. In spite of the strong evening sunlight cutting down from the distant hills, they could apparently still see her fairly clearly – the instant she’d tried to stand up, one of the heavy males had lumbered over, head swinging and wingtips rustling. He’d stood staring in at her for a horribly long five or six minutes, his carrion breath making her feel distinctly light-headed. She wasn’t sure if he suspected her, since she’d lost the translation earpiece long ago and didn’t have the first idea what his guttural mutterings meant, but she tried to look small and scared and inoffensive anyway, just in case. Eventually he’d wandered off, grumbling like a broken pipe, unfurling his wings and fluttering the yellow undersides in what looked like a placatory manner at two females “looking after” the children, then finally settling nearby and joining one of the piles of sleeping bodies.
     “Ouch!” She hissed softly at the sting of pain in her palm as she rubbed the top off one of the blisters she’d worked into it, licking very gingerly at the raw skin and using her tongue to push it back into place. Concentrating on her hand and coaxing the skin to heal over, she used her moment’s pause to appraise her work, and sighed softly at how slow it was all going. The raw ends of the bars she’d worked on all swung loosely, but not really far enough. If her visual estimates were right, she’d just about be able to squeeze out underneath, but it’d be a very tight fit, and anyone could sneak up on her in the interim…
     If only things were going faster, because right now would be the ideal time to make a run for it, while the ugly brutes were all sleeping. If rumours were right and they were primarily nocturnal, she guessed it must just be that they preferred the dark, since they clearly weren’t as blind in sunshine as Avocet’s crew seemed to think. Some were clustered in the shade, but most were indoors – ‘indoors’ being a somewhat relative term, the whole village being so derelict. There were a few simply flaked out in full sun out on the grass between the low-roofed mud and thatch buildings, but that was probably simply down to the fact the shadows had moved around after they’d gone to sleep.
     Lena wondered, absently, who’d actually built their ‘village’, as the current residents looked too clumsy to be hauling rocks about, and they weren’t looking after the place anyway, simply allowing everything to get more and more derelict. The very best of the buildings were “unkempt”, a good few looked to be in an advanced state of disrepair, their roofs partway fallen in and their walls cracked, and the most distant ones had almost completely reverted back to nature, crawling with vines and moss, small saplings growing out through gaping holes in the thatch. There was some rough wicker housing just visible behind some of the tumbledown stone buildings – stiff wooden poles lashed together with fine vine-ropes, like her prison had been crafted from, and covered with straw and leaves to keep the rain out – which she guessed was the limit of her captor’s building ability.
     She got back to her sawing – it’d be nightfall soon, and she wanted to have got away before then.

     Tre’Ora had already been briefed with the problem by the time Yaaren emerged from the hatch in the bottom of the ship, his eyes dark and glittering cold murder. She understood and shared his concern, but where his was a singleminded concern for his partner, hers was double-edged – concern for the lost, and concern for the potential harm this alien male had the capacity for. Last thing they wanted to do was further alienate the natives – although they could hardly be said to be on speaking terms, so far the relationship had been a fairly amicable one of you-stay-where-you-are-and-we-won’t-pinch-too-much-of-your-stuff.
     For a moment or two, Ora was totally satisfied that anything could happen if Yaaren took matters into his own giant hands. She’d been briefed on his past, by a concerned Anu who’d dug the information out of Dauntless’ core-dump, and for a fraction of a second as he approached over the grass she clearly saw the broad-shouldered hate-eyed gladiator whose eyes had burned from the old greyed photographs. He could slaughter those feathery lizards easily.
     The way he pursed his lips, though… the light furrows on his brow, and the flicker of something deep in his eyes… There was more to him than Anu’s information suggested. He might look like a thug at the first casual glance, and the old propaganda did little to help, but there was obviously a powerful heart in that deep chest.
     She watched him approach over the grass, and quietly nursed the stock of the assault rifle slung over her powerful shoulder. “Bad news, I hear,” she observed, darkly, and he flashed her a grim look of agreement. “Osha sent me the co-ordinates. We can head out and find her as soon as you’re ready.”
     “It’s going to be dark soon,” Ren agreed, in a roundabout way, casting a critical eye at the sinking sun and faintly purpling sky overhead. “If those things are mostly nocturnal, like your scientists seem to think, I’d like to find her before the hunting instinct kicks in for the night.”
     “I think we should take Yona, too,” Ora prompted, even though she wanted to get moving just as much as he did. “She may not be any good in a fight but she’s clever where it counts, might be able to find your lady telepathically.” Plus, she added to herself, silently, if you’re going to do anything untoward, I’ll have a fraction of a second of advanced warning to stop you if I need to…

      The problem with running the engines “dry” to keep them from seizing up, Kol mused, standing down on the grass and supervising the crew as they overhauled the portside emitters, is that all the dust in the atmosphere glues them up just as badly.
     Port emitter number three had completely snarled up during the morning run. When one of the junior technicians had clambered up to have a look, he’d found it almost completely clogged with atmospheric dust and muck, and a very brief inspection of all the other emitters had turned up the same result. The field-baffles they used to keep the grime out were only so efficient – enough for stellar travel, which was all they normally needed – and now Kxnik’s team were going to have to thoroughly dismantle and clean out all the emitters on all sides; port, rear and starboard. Cue more long-suffering grumbles from the chief engineer and his team.
     “Sir? Sir!” a voice from high above attracted Kol’s attention, and he looked up to find one of the DuSkai engineers was hanging over the ship’s wing to gaze down at him, grasping the vessel’s smooth skin by the suction pads on her tentacle-arms, her skin a nervous mixture of gold and grey. “Look that way! Someone’s coming!”
     He followed her pointing arm, and after a second of effort saw what her keener eyes had spotted from atop the vessel. A small group of creatures approaching, from the west; it was impossible to see who or how many from this distance, and after a few moment’s useless squinting Kol ran for binoculars. “Captain!” He flicked his radio on. “We have visitors…”
     “Visitors? What sort of visitors?” Ito’s disembodied voice asked, curiously.
     “It looks like some of the natives,” Kol replied, watching through the binoculars. “The smarter ones.”
     “I wonder what they want?”
     “I wonder,” Kol agreed, dubiously. “So much for ‘well, so long as they stay away we won’t interfere too much with their development…’”
     “You knew it’d happen some day, so long as we remain grounded,” the faint sound of footsteps came across with the captain’s voice, in the background. “They knew we were here, it was only a matter of time before they got curious enough to come over. Besides, the Dauntless crewmen have already had contact with them. Could be what’s made them bold enough to visit us now. Stay where you are, anyway, I’m on my way over.”
     “Aye, sir.”

     “We’ve got a welcoming committee,” Slate observed, watching as a handful of distant shapes gathered on the grass by the giant bird.
     After some amount of heated discussion with the Eqqari council, it had been decided (with great reluctance on most parts) that it would be in their best interest to ask Avocet’s help, to try and figure out what it was the K’Krri were up to. Plus Onyx was still going downhill, and Slate had put his foot down, with the ultimatum that if they wouldn’t do anything he’d just have to get him to medical help on his own, and goodness knows how many K’Krri would be attracted to them then, especially this close to sun-down…
     Councillor Vekkai still looked more than a little anxious, his hesitant footsteps almost mincing. “They mean us no harm, na?” he asked for the third time in as many minutes, nervously fingering the bow slung over one powerful shoulder.
     “I doubt it,” Slate confirmed, casting a sneaky sidelong glance at the big Eqqari and musing silently how ill-at-ease he looked – for such a powerful male, who apparently prided himself on his hunting prowess, he looked almost cowardly, withdrawn. “They’ll probably be very interested to talk to you,” Slate reassured.
     Vekkai didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t argue. He simply retreated to the back of the group, tying to make it look like he was just keeping watch over who did what, and only succeeded in proving himself nervous.
     Slate let his mount drop back a little in the party, falling level with Tela. “Nik?” He leaned closer to his friend. “You bearing up all right?”
     Onyx was slumped against a pad of blanket around Tela’s narrow shoulders, trying to look like he was trying to get some sleep, but he looked wan, and sick. He forced a smile, and there was a reassuringly genuine glint of thanks in his expression, but his eyes were thin pained slits of gold. “Bearing up,” he agreed, hoarsely. “Howmuch furth-… further?”
     “Not far. I can see Avocet already.”
     “Wake me when we get there…?”
     Slate managed a smile, even though ‘happy’ was far from how he actually felt, and patted his arm, affectionately. “Absolutely.”
     Onyx closed his eyes and gave a thin sigh, and tried to make himself comfortable, looking so comprehensively beaten that Slate feared they should simply be getting ready for the inevitable. That in spite of everything they’d done, in spite of all the selfless work the Eqqari had put in, he was still on that downward spiral and was still going to die.
     The herbalist gave Slate a tight look. “I hope your people are powerful shamans, yap?” she said, softly. “He has sickness deep in his chest, I hear it around his heart if I listen hard. He will need powerful magics to make him better. These… these little magics…” she lifted a hand and pecked her fingers at the translation loop in her ear, “they are strange and wonderful, but do not help your brother, na? He needs things which will drive out the poisons, which will remove the bad blood, the black humours which make him sick.”
      Sickness in his chest-… what was that? Did she mean an infection? It was hardly worth asking, because it wasn’t as if she’d understand the question. These people had probably never even heard of ‘bacteria’ – animals far tinier than the eye could ever hope to see? They’d probably think it was just another of his ‘magics’. “Will that be easy?” he wondered, aloud. “Is it the, uh-… your Great Dark Lady, could she have caused it?”
     Tela smiled, but it was about as convincing as the look Slate had managed earlier. “If the Dark One on the Mountain had wished him ill, he would not have been allowed to leave her den,” she reassured him. “He has picked up a sickness from the cold, the rain and the dirt.” She paused, briefly, ran her fingers down the strap holding her satchel on her shoulder; she looked awkward and anxious. “But your people are powerful, ne?” she reminded him, quietly, as if unwilling to speak of people she considered so great and terrible. “You and your people have tamed such powers as we could never have dreamed existed, powerful sorcery and great wisdom. How can you doubt your abilities?”
     Slate gave her a wan look. “You might think of us as powerful, Tela, but that… creature… up in the mountains… She can do things we don’t even understand.” And if she is what’s causing this sickness, I have no idea how we’ll fix it.

     Kol had been joined by a number of other interested crewmen by the time the little party reached the crest of the hill, where they waited. Ito had arrived in good time, accompanied (as ever, it seemed, these days) by Ivy, and Ren had paused very briefly, fidgeting while he waited, just to check his two friends got back 100% in one piece.
     Slate slid gracelessly to the ground off the tall brown eovyu's back, and it mooed and shuffled its stubby wings, grumpily. Eovyu weren’t exactly designed for riding – not only were they smelly and grumpy, their backs were knobbly too, and it had been a fairly uncomfortable journey even with a thick pad of folded blanket to sit on – but then Eqqari found it tricky to carry one small individual over a large distance, let alone someone as heavy as Slate, and they’d decided it easier just to take other measures.
     “Hey all,” he greeted, distractedly. “Is there a doctor here?”
     “I’ll call her,” Kol volunteered. “Emergency?”
     “Um, I’m not sure. Maybe. Hopefully it’s just a chest infection, but, uh-…” Slate flustered, briefly, then turned to the Eqqari female, against who the charcoal-coloured, barely-conscious young dar was slumped. “Tela, would you sit? I’m not sure I can just lift him off-…”
     Ivy took a step closer. “Slate?” She attracted his attention, gently. “Is this Onyx? You only explained about his accident quite briefly.”
     Still slumped against Tela’s slim shoulders to keep himself upright, Onyx answered on his own behalf. “It's all right,” he replied, hoarsely, barely opening his eyes. “It's me; I had an, um… interesting meeting with someone nasty.”
     “Well?” Ren glanced down at Ivy. “Are we sure it’s not a trick, and this isn’t the creature itself?”
     Ivy wrinkled her nose, thoughtfully. “It is Nik’s voice,” she confirmed. “There's a few differences in timbre, but everything else agrees. Admittedly, we don’t know much about that creature, and I see your point that it could be imitating him, but I’m fairly confident. It would have to imitate his manners as well as his looks, and this person does speak like our friend.”
     Onyx forced a smile. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” he rasped. “If you were wondering… *cough* …she called herself Neev,” he explained, heavily, as Slate helped him slither awkwardly off Tela’s back. “She sounded… *cough*… I don’t know… psychotic, maybe. Certainly wrong in the *cough*… in the head.”
     “Wonderful news,” Ren observed, dryly. “Not only are we stranded, we have an insane self-made goddess to worry about. Good to see you back in one piece at least, Onyx. Now if you’ll all forgive me, I have some very urgent business to attend.” He gave a polite little half-bow to the Eqqari, then turned away to where Tre’Ora and Yona now waited, further down the hill.
     The doctor was a delicate coppery-coloured little Ondraii called Maeu; she arrived at a hasty trot, with a Zaar nurse and a strange hovering ‘wheelchair’ in tow, passing Ren as he headed the opposite direction down the hill. Slate helped Onyx sink onto the seat; the dark Vul gave a heartfelt groan of relief at no longer having to help support himself, feeling completely spent, every last scrap of strength just going into not coughing.
     Slate dithered by his shoulder, reluctant to release his grip on his hand; Onyx gave him a taut smile, and gave his hand a feeble squeeze. “I'll be okay,” he croaked. “It's just flu, or something. Just a chill, from being caught out in the rain.”
     “Doctor-” Slate cast a worried glance in the doctor’s direction.
     She nodded, reassuringly “We’ll run a few tests,” she said, falling into step with the nurse, “but at first glance it doesn’t look to be particularly sinister…”
     Slate gave his friends a brief, tense smile, then scuttled off at Maeu’s heels.
     Ito took a step forwards. “Well, since no-one else seems willing to introduce themselves,” he observed, offering a hand to the closest of the Eqqari, noticing (with a sense of weary resignation) that at least two of them had translation aids fitted. Oh well. “My name is Ito’Rouen, and I’m the captain of this vessel. I’m very pleased to make all of your acquaintance.”
     Vekkai sat down awkwardly on his haunches, not sure what to do with the hand that had been offered and hesitantly following suit. “I am Councillor Vekkai,” he replied, watching puzzledly as the Vul captain took his hand and gave it a shake. “I-… We come as friends,” he went on, laying his bow onto the ground in front of his forefeet. “And we bring news.”
     “The K’Krri,” Tela added, paddling her forefeet; Vekkai shot her a glare for interrupting him, but let her speak. “They change, they walk by day now. Something is wrong, the Great Dark Lady is making plans, great plans…! She would not change them otherwise!”
     Kol exchanged a glance with his colleagues. “K’Krri,” he mused. “They’re the ones that usually hunt by night, correct? The ones that used to keep on stealing our supplies?”
     “The ugly winged hunting ones, they worship the Great Dark Lady that lives on the mountain, make gifts of our children to her, if they can catch them…” Vekkai agreed, grimly. “She is a greedy creature, wanting more, always more. Never satisfied with what my people once provided, na, never, and she changes the K’Krri to bribe them.”
     The Avocet crewmembers swapped looks. “Councillor, any information you can give us will be invaluable,” Ito suggested, softly. “We are of the increasing opinion that it is mostly down to this… this Neev creature… that we’re trapped here on your world, and if her activity is increasing for no good reason you can think of then it is quite possibly something she is intending to do with us…”

     Almost the very instant he’d set metaphorical foot aboard Avocet, Onyx had been whisked down to the shipboard Infirmary for a barrage of tests, leaving Slate to pace and pick at his nails in the corridor outside, trying not to look like he was chewing himself up on the inside. The wait felt interminable – almost as if they were keeping him waiting on purpose, so they didn’t have to break the bad news to him that it was that autoimmune condition and Onyx was dying, and-
     “Slate?” Doctor Maeu put her head around the door and gave him a smile. “You can come in now. We’re done.”
     “Doctor, what's wrong with him?” This dread foreboding was intensely unpleasant – it felt like there was a hand in his guts, twisting at them. “Please, if it’s as bad as I think it is I need to know what to-”
     “Oh my, steady! It’s nowhere near as bad as you think it is! He has pneumonia,” Maeu interrupted, gently. “It’s fairly a well entrenched bacterial form of the infection, which is why he has the cough and fever, but we have some good antibiotics which should clear it up readily.”
     “Is that all?” Slate cut in, feeling his knees suddenly go weak with relief. “I thought you were going to say he had that… that self-killing immune disease…”
     Maeu smiled, tautly, and shook her head. “Goodness, no – if he had that, I doubt he’d have lasted anywhere near as long as he has. But still, your friend is very sick, and we’ll need to keep him in the Infirmary for the next week or so, until he starts to improve.”
     Slate nodded, casting his gaze over to the ward. “Does he know? Can I go and sit with him, for a while?”
     Maeu glanced up from looking through the small medicines cabinet built into one of the ward bulkheads, and nodded. “Yes, he knows, and you’re free to visit him any time, but we’ve got him dosed up with antibiotics and some painkillers, and last time I checked he was sleeping,” she paused, checked the wording on a tiny vial of medicine. “Your friends were asking after you, earlier. If you’d rather go up and see them, we can call you when he wakes.”

     The sky was a deepening shade of yellowed-pink by the time Lena felt satisfied she had demolished enough bars to have a half-decent chance of escape. She gave her surroundings a very quick visual scrutiny, and satisfied herself there was no-one around to see her; it seemed that those who were awake had gone to some kind of “meeting” – well, that or supper, they fought over food with the same alacrity they fought over everything else – as she could hear their hideous guttural voices somewhere in the distance. Pushing the bars outwards, gently, she waited to see if anyone was watching, waited for a reaction… nothing. After another quick glance around, she steeled her nerve, and ducked her head under the loose ends of the wooden bars.
      Great, it is going to be a tight fit, she cursed inwardly, squirming her way beneath the raw ends, struggling to hold all the bars back; the tight top vines acted like springs, meaning she had to physically hold each rod out of the way. The hard ground made her back hurt, and it felt like the unseen rocks hidden in the grass were gouging lumps out of her. First thing I do when I get back is get on that diet, she promised herself, panting. And that’s immediately, not however long it takes to get-
     “Ah!” She gasped a thin startled hiss of pain as the broken end of one of the bars slipped free of her damp grip, jerking viciously back and digging into her thigh; for what felt like an eternity, all she could do was lay there – lay there and grit her teeth against the pain, and hope against hope no-one would see her while she was so precariously trapped. It was only after the initial flare of pain died away that she dared look; the jagged tip of the bar had torn her trouser-leg clean through, but there was no gushing fount of blood she’d been afraid of. It looked like it’d come out in a stunning bruise against the pale cream skin of her inner thigh, but that would be about it.
     Okay, you can fuss over that later, she scolded herself, wincing, kicking her way over the last few feet and ignoring the flash of pain as she shouldered her way into a thistle. She stood unsteadily for the first time in hours, took a moment to gather her bearings, then staggered away in the direction she hoped Dauntless and safety could be found in.


We now return you to your scheduled broadcast.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 16th, 2007 07:37 am (UTC)
Well, the little things like that come from the way I write - it starts out as something like "waiting to be rescued" and then I change the POV slightly into "waiting for a rescue" but I typo something, and ctrl-undo too far so it goes crunky.
Jul. 14th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
*pulls out a trumpet*

So, should I read this now, or find chapters 1-17 and read those first?

(And the fairy-ish Vee is cute, by the way)
Jul. 16th, 2007 07:41 am (UTC)
Eh, chapters 2 and 3 are probable in absentia, while I rewrite them... *innocent* But the other chapters are about, so whatever you like. ;)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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