95 \ 287

Preparations were underway for, what would be for many, their final ascent in The Arch. This felt much faster than the pace of the experiment leading up to now. That had taken aeons, relatively, and now they were done in a flash and disappearing in a puff of smoke. Many ultimate objectives for the materials of this project had been reached, if of course with indeterminate further speculations.

Karma Ilacqua and Arkuda walked across the spacious loading bay exchanging some closing remarks. “Arctyri has been a fascinating mystery to comprehend, one that I have barely known previously,” the Dragon mused. “I know ‘e will be pleased to be relieved of this duty, but this was a remarkable collaboration that will remain in our memories. Onward from here, I expect to face disputes of a different nature. Though we were in danger and secrecy, I feel now that I am leaving safety.”

“We did end up getting a little cozy in here.” Karma smiled. “I have actually never worked with Dragons before, and I would like you to know what a thrill and a joy it has been. Consider me open to your further contact.” Equipment was being dismantled around them, priceless never-before-achieved assemblages reduced again to parts in crates with notebook records.

From his out-of-the-way vantage point, Derringer watched the two of them approach leisurely. He’d been assessing his options and accepting his fate. The Princess is going to go where she has to go, and he’s going to let her go. The General’s going to do what he has to do, and he’s going to let him do it. He doesn’t like watching a paycheck walk away, but Karma’s got something for him to do for the team that’ll keep him involved and up his rake. Plus, he gets to ride with the pretty lady. He’s looking forward to this. He still has what he deems a decent chance of getting paid, and of getting by. He’s got a job because he keeps his job, sketchy as things are. What a loopy market these days. At least he’s got his team of specialists.

Arkuda shimmered a little at Derringer as they reached him, a sign of good humor. Karma looked him up and down, letting her smile grow a little as she reconnoitered, “Got your trousers firmly fastened? Pocket kerchief? Stick with me, I’m getting the nicest ride out of here.”

Drift X’s Wendel Harper reached them at that moment, and Karma turned to shake her hand. Wendel addressed Derringer. “So, you’ll be joining us?”

“Gladly,” he said with a tip of his hat. He’d gotten it back from Wendel’s ship.

“We’re going to be making a lot of stops, and you’re next to last. But it’ll be scenic.”

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