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.

58.3 \ 240

“What is it you’ll do from here?” Claymore asked Derringer. “Your payment is forthcoming when the situation restabilizes, whatever the ultimate results may be. I acknowledge that you have done your part, as contracted.” He left many degrees of uncertainty unspoken.

Derringer grasped the unspoken. Claymore was probably the only one who knew what he was owed, and who had access to that particular security. He may not continue to possess access, after this next set of actions. Princess Soleil might at some point be able to pay him to satisfaction through some other channel, in a different position. He could be mad right now, but getting mad before getting paid wasn’t the best way to get paid; he’d had the premonition, anyway. With this economy, under these conditions, it didn’t seem like a great market for finding other gigs – or even floating, though of course he could float wherever and whenever. He didn’t mind this person, the Princess, she wasn’t bad to work with. That was not insignificant credit. The General, too. “I could stick with you. Be handy. Keep doing the job. Get us to our checkpoints.”

Eyebrows raised. “He’s useful,” summarized Soleil with wry simpatico. Useful on their side, working for them, not at loose ends with potentially bitter tendencies. Useful, skilled, competent, good in situations. Her sidelong look at Draig confirmed her approving tone. Though that might sound cold, she knew the investigator would appreciate the compliment, and Derringer did salute that.

“He is,” corroborated Draig. He was very, very good; which could be very bad in opposition. He’d be worth it. “Okay, I have a ship for us. But, I have to do something first. It won’t take long. Come with me. You’ll be fine, just stay on your toes.” He wanted to empty some rooms.

58.2 \ 240

Eyes still on the General, Dalib raised a finger to his lips. Derringer seconded the motion. General Claymore followed with the same, showing he copied the message. Keep quiet, now or about the information to be revealed, or both.

It was too weird to be expected, the way a real person shimmered away to reveal a different real person, like a reflection on the water disturbed to show something beneath. Even Derringer, who had half expected it but hadn’t seen the change with his eyes, startled in his chair the way the General did, recovering from the eerieness. Draig returned his finger to his lips and and concentrated on it for another moment.

As soon as they had a hold of themselves and before any surprised questions, Princess Soleil delivered her priority matter of import. “Where is Arkuda?” She knew she was very vulnerable here, that this moment was fragile.

Draig fell into step with her like in the days they played as children. “I miss er a lot.” He waggled his finger from one of them to the other. “More than either of you, I’d bet. My job right now—“ Cutting off his statement, he raised a hand to pause time. Soleil and Derringer let him process the request from behind his raised hand. This went on for a number of measures.

Draig suddenly knew things, one after the other. He would back her up, right now, with everything. Few minds in existence could sway him thus, and he decided to allow it completely. He swept aside his heavy moral greys. He would let her influence him to do what felt right, and seemed difficult. Their arrival at this moment made it simple. He understood everything more, now. He knew that he could find Arkuda, as though it just hadn’t been important or clear until this situation. He knew he could do it using his Viridian Phasing connection. The Princess was asking him to connect her to someone in removal; that determined their course, and his. “I can help you find er. If that’s what you want.”

“Yes,” replied Princess Soleil, in her familiar tone bearing the weight of much consideration.

General Claymore looked at their faces. They looked ready. “Then we have to go somewhere else. Now.” All three of them stood. “I can take us somewhere appropriate. No, not the library,” he said, throwing in the last line to invoke an old in-joke. “I’m going to disappear with you to do this. They will start looking for me.” He turned to look at Derringer. “Do you understand why I cannot pay you now, as the last thing I do before embarking on this course?”

“That payment is for the return of the Princess. But we are not returning the Princess.”