61 \ 243

“I want to do the thing,” said Captain Wendel, piloting her ship.

“We can do this thing,” reinforced her dear partner Leiv from the copilot’s chair. With a quick turn, they navigated toward the next drift along the Brave Crossing, the tenth drift from the point of departure. It was Wendel’s signature ritual, her established finding point in case anyone thought to look for her along the road they were traveling. She hadn’t posted up at a drift since Drift turned X, so this instance had a ceremonial feel to it. Going to the tenth, no longer the ninth.

Once they settled in, they set out a picnic to hash over details before going straight into the contract. Leiv Gruun took his time to get really into the document and read all the fine print. Gretz felt able to breathe in this pause of activity. “That was a heavy situation down there,” he said, breaking a companionable silence across the foldout table, “and now I’m not there. Now I’m in space.”

“The way things are right now, we’ve all come from trouble in different places, brother.” Leiv paused his reading to nibble a biscuit. “You can relax here in the stellar breezes.”

Eventually, Gretz got up and wandered to the cockpit, where Wendel was lounging athwart her captain’s chair. She didn’t like being near Leiv when he was doing a contract reading. “Have you heard from anyone else?” Gretz asked, scratching his abdomen in sleepover comfort mode.

“We came to you first, after I got Leiv. If I hear of more things that want doing, it would be more than I can handle right now. You know I ignore almost nothing.”

Gretz looked around at fine points of some upgraded interior panels. “So, what happened to Drift 9?”

“Well, it’s Drift X now! Yes, with the alphabet pronunciation which makes the ship sound ten times cooler. Maybe you can ask Drift X.” She evaded giving the full story, but introduced the possibility of talking to the ship. Gretz nodded as comprehension of this strange reality dawned.

“I can tell I’ll need the time for a full discussion.”

“Drift is as opinionated as ever.”

60 \ 242

This was a strange place for a student to be asked to wait in, though Toller’s was an extremely unusual situation for a school of royal distinction. After all, he’d used something from the Princess, some kind of unique signature in thirteen words that was given to a specific recognition program. She was probably still officially missing, the Princess herself, and this newly-teenage boy their best clue. Prince Cristobal should be safe, while slightly more knowledgeable.

The security escort had taken him away from the schoolroom’s building entirely, then set him up in this room in a dingy hotel where he was told that someone would get to him soon and they would go somewhere more official. No topics in question were discussed. He had examined the guard’s equipment and movements, but there hadn’t been an opening for the motivation to escape. The scuffle wouldn’t have worked out. Now here he was, alone in a weird room that was sort of comfortable. He was calculating the right times to test other potential exits, assuming there were forms of observation present. He listened to anything he could hear. It had been nearly two hours.

There was some activity happening in nearby rooms. Some mumbles. The approach of sets of feet at an excited pace. From where he sat in his chair, he faced the door. Seemed like something was going down. Someone actually started working his door, then they were granted official access.

The door swung inward. A military-looking man in crisp civilian clothes walked in toward him, beckoning. Behind him was Derringer, and a mustache man in a bowler hat. “Derringer?” asked Toller, amazed.

“Hey!” Derringer barked in surprise at the sight of his young shipmate in one of these rooms. Draig paused, looking between them.

Chip Soleil ducked inside, shutting the door quickly, and dispelled her glammer. Toller startled but smiled, while the other two wriggled a little. “Toller. Toller. Come with us. Later we can decide, but right now, come with us.” She put her glammer back on, and the portly Chip reopened the door.

“Come with us,” said Draig, accepting Princess Soleil’s verdict. “We don’t have long till other security personnel returns.”

“Come with us,” said Derringer, supporting and vouching for the new guy’s opinion.

“Yeah… okay,” Toller responded. He went out with them through the door, which they left hanging open. Most of the doors were hanging open now, just a few still closed. One person could be seen making themselves scarce around a corner.

59.3 \ 241

“They’ve been helpful!” Wendel said with perk. She was still looking to Gretz, open for suggestion.

“Yes, I see,” replied Gretz, collecting his thoughts to address Wendel’s overhanging question. “So, I got a recent call for hire that didn’t sound right for my ship. It might work for yours, though. Just came in yesterday, and I was going to ignore it. I’ve been doing what I can with people in distress here, but I recognize a special opportunity when it lines up.” His eyes surveyed the supermarket chaos, refraining from questions like how they would get out of there, since they seemed unworried. “The job’s with a private company, which is rare right now. Weird location.”

“Weird, but known?” Wendel inquired as though unknown locations had been common recently.

“Known… yes.”

Wendel beckoned Gretz and Leiv with her shop-talk gesture. Gretz retrieved his calendar disc from the foreman’s clipboard held by one of his associates. Leiv came out from inside the hatchway, not naked. They huddled, and muttered through the terms. “And with Skyfather, I think we could negotiate a really good rate,” Wendel concluded.

“I’m along for this,” nodded Leiv.

Gretz sighed and scratched the back of his neck. “I know how to cut my current contract. My neighborhood friends can hang onto my cab. They know what to do.” He went back to the patient co-conspirators and had a talk with them. They appeared to be prepared for this. Handshakes went around, and they kept the clipboard after Gretz removed a couple personal items. He returned to his Starweaver friends. “I’m along, too.” They grinned and clapped him on the back several times.

Wendel Harper composed her posture and approached Rosy Glow, Greezmo, and the Jiggler. “It may be, kind folk, that we will not need your assistance going forward from this point. Then you can attend to your own understandably complex matters. Drift X’s augmentations should be able to get us anywhere we need, as long as we know where we’re going. I consider our favors returned in kind.” The Kao-Sidhe curtseyed.

“Hey uh, before everybody goes, can I just look at your ships one more time? I haven’t even gotten to see the classic outside, but I could hear it. You could say my ears are tuned,” Greezmo asked, making grabby hands. Wendel nodded vigorously to Gretz, and Gretz shrugged and nodded to Greezmo. They pranced out to have a look, gloved fingers wiggling.

“One more gift I can give,” volunteered the Jiggler. “If you will allow me to discern the most amenable moment for a graceful exit for all involved, I can do so. The nearest timing of intentions with the least likelihood of unpleasant confrontation.” Wendel nodded with two-handed go on, go on motions.

The Jiggler jiggled things around meditatively, and Greezmo shuffled around Kinetryx and Drift making cooing noises and satisfied grunts, politely and expertly checking compartments. Dusting their hands, they walked back to the Starweavers. “Thanks for letting this gremlin do its worst. Remember, if there’s trouble you can’t handle, just Give It A Little Mo.” Greezmo pointed at their ballcap which read that exact statement on the front. “Your vehicles should depart in the best of moods!”

The Jiggler opened their eyes, smiling peacefully in a moment of stillness. “Go now, at your pace.”

Gretz went and bid farewell to his group, which left the store one at a time to Kinetryx 2. The guys started off toward the Drift with some of that team job excitement. Captain Wendel Harper remained to ask, “What about you three?”

Rosy Glow swished her raiment. “We’ll dance off in our own directions, as we do.” Releasing each other’s regard, they parted. The Kao-Sidhe were the only ones present to watch in wonder as Drift X’s one-of-a-kind science charged itself under command. With a crescendoing burble, the spaceship disappeared into its own molecular echo on the note of a reverberating ping, a boat turning into the ripples beneath it.

As if by silent agreement, each of the Kao-Sidhe sampled or examined a piece of the human food. Then they each danced as befit their character, and as they danced they receded into some form of distance yet remaining in their points of space, until they disappeared.

59.2 \ 241

The scene was commonplace, therefore easy not to notice in a normal world – which this wasn’t, but situational blinders are persistent. Just small freight at the back entrance of a supermarket. Only one person visible at a time. Lots of authorized pickups look like this.

They were lifting camping supplies, with the management’s permission and acceptance of responsibility, written and neighbor-witnessed. Readiness stuff, transported in amounts that wouldn’t result in a major infraction if intercepted. Any one load, any one action could be easily mistaken, or explained within the realm of the forgivable. Gretz had been triple-timing on extra errands. He felt motivated. He will sleep, a lot, soon.

People hadn’t pinged back to Kinetryx in a little while. He went in through the back door to check on things, and bumped into his three cohorts, unusually clustered right there. He patted them forward and emerged through them to see what had them stunned. Someone had dropped a spaceship onto the shelves in the center of the supermarket – without dropping it through the intact ceiling. It was a very familiar spaceship, looking a lot newer!

The locals who were working with him muttered in apologetic shock. “Nobody saw it appear,” said one. “I was the first to see it coming in on this lap, and it was just there already.”

“Don’t be too alarmed,” Gretz tentatively soothed, “they might be—“

“FRIENDS!” Wendel burst out of the people door in the side of Drift X, arms upraised and waving the way she would greet him across an airlot. “What could be more important than friends on a day like today?” Her steps as she walked toward Gretz over the supermarket rubble looked a little wavy. Leiv popped his head out of the door, grinning as large as his lady.

“Wendel, have you… slept?” Nevertheless, he opened his arms to receive the hug.

She sighed happily as she gave him a big squeeze. “Time is different right now. I’m fiiine! And you’re fine! Isn’t that just fine?”

“It is, it is. It’s very fine with me.” He glanced around and looked back at his collaborators. “But if it’s me you’re looking for, we could probably let these folks go home so they don’t need to get any more mixed up in this than they already are.”

“Oh!” It dawned on Wendel that the entire situation looked compromising. “Yes, of course you can go home.” She addressed them sympathetically, as though they’d all had a long day at work together. “It’s not like we’re going to make them come with us,” shooting this to Gretz in a classic Starweaver aside. They looked relieved, but they stuck around for Gretz.

“Is there somewhere you want me to go with you?” This might be important, judging by the moment.

“Well… We’re here to see you. And we can’t exactly stay here.” Wendel pointed a finger to the corners of the store. “Do you think those cameras are working?”

“No, they aren’t. Where do you want to go?”

“Where should we go?” Wendel’s returned question was followed by a confused silence.

Gretz suddenly noticed three people outside the ship who weren’t there just a moment ago. Leiv was still peering mischievously from the hatchway. There was a woman in profusively flowing sunset raiment; a bobbling silken checkered harlequin; and a ballcap mechanic suited and covered in grease and debris from head to toe. They appeared in human dimensions, but like images stretched and adjusted to appear so. This exact sense of strangeness corroborated the rumors that Gretz had heard floating around. “Oh, you’re with – I’ve been hearing about them. Kay-Oh-Shee? People can’t stop talking about them. I didn’t even see them there till…” He trailed off trying to think of what happened to make them appear.

The harlequin peered at him half-bowing, approaching to speak in precise language. “You must have finally tipped in favor of the notion that we are possible, when faced with this impossibility. We are not perceivable to those who close their windows of perception. Our visibility is susceptible to the valency of the observer, as opposed to our essential existence, which is not.” They directed some attention to the other humans at the door. “It is so unfortunate that your leadership has been responding to renewed awareness of our existence with such stringency and hostility; though we Kao-Sidhe are but a part of these unfolding events.” The harlequin turned a nod back to Gretz. “I can see that you’re ameliorating the situation for your neighbors.”

“We’re managing. Myself, I’ve had neither quarrel nor involvement with Kao-Sidhe.”

“You have now! I am the Jiggler. Hello, Gretz Manoukian. Your friend Wendel gave us your full name, it helped us find you.”

“Yes… that actually is what full names do.” Gretz peered back at the harlequin as though they were familiar in some way. “Hello, Jiggler.”

59.1 \ 241

They were exploiting a gap in the schedule. Gretz had figured these out from his reliable stint with Additional Patrol. He picked up the job on Vertris when they started hiring older-model privately driven vehicles for lockdown duties in dead zones. Previous-gen vehicles didn’t have as much trouble with the signal jamming, the ships and hovers forty or more years old. Kinetryx 2 performed smoothly; Gretz maintained it for function over looks, with of course some surprises under its bonnet. It could take the road. With the cargo thorax in parked storage, Kinetryx fit well in Vertraia’s medium-sized byways.

While he was on duty, he did the job politely and efficiently: vigilance, courier, passengers, escorting. But he also served the roles he believed he should have been given, which authority failed to specify. The lockdown state was turning on its citizens. It was too much, some things were just not right. He got almost no trouble, maybe because he was actually helping people. He was giving them access to their own businesses and supplies, allowing them to redistribute their resources as they saw fit in this time of emergency.