Paul ushered us over to another piece of machinery, with another worker who sat there doing his job rather than acknowledge us. Near as I could tell, he kept us away from vital sections, but he seemed to treat everything in the room as if he owned it. I bit my tongue; if the crew didn’t mind his behavior, then it wasn’t my place to say anything.
“Here’s the navigation section, home of some expensive GPS equipment.” As I wasn’t an expert on ships, I spent my time nodding along. “Here in the sounds, you can just look out the window and see the shore, but god help anyone who’s out in the open ocean without this baby. Don’t let the old salts tell ya it was better in the old days.”
I did look out the window, at the ocean we were moving into. Strange as it may sound, I had never been to the ocean before in my life. In fact, up until my ill-fated visit to the Greenwitch, I had never gone near any of the borders to the state. I suppressed an urge to look at Chloe, who had seen multiple continents.
On a lark more than anything, I switched over to my special vision. The world vanished around me, leaving only flotsam, skeletal frames and steel blocks. Most of the ship was now invisible, save for large chunks of the engines. Not far from us, well below the waves, I saw the framework of a vessel. From a distance of what must have been two to three miles, I could only make out the most basic of details.
SurpriseSuspicion ConcernDefend. I tried to focus on caution, before one of the girls did something which blew our secret.
RealizationSense. Cecelia turned her head more or less toward where I was looking. “That’s interesting. There’s a sunken ship, around two miles from here.” SurpriseConfusion. She shouldn’t be saying this out loud. Cecelia turned to face Captain Cline. “But you knew that, already, didn’t you?” RealizationSuspicion.
The small woman, suspicious as she was acting, wore a smile that even Cecelia believed was genuine. “I’m sorry, I hope you’re not offended, but I was asked to do a small favor and make sure you could do what you claimed.”
UnderstandingAcceptance. “No, that’s fine,” Chloe said. Of the three of us, she was the one least bothered by this turn of events. “This is an… irregular arrangement. It pays to make sure we’re not, well, I guess it’s pirates when on a boat.”
“I knew you’d understand.” The captain seemed sincere, and even Cecelia’s power agreed. If she wasn’t honest, she was the best liar in the world.
Still, it doesn’t all add up yet. “And what would have happened if we didn’t pass this… test of yours?” No point in letting the girls do all the work.
“Well, I would have asked first, but if it looked like you were lying to me, your other ship wouldn’t have been there. Then you’d have to find some other way back to the mainland.”
OffendedAnger NegationUnderstanding. “Fair enough,” Chloe said. “A simple test using a ship everyone knows is there, so there’s no arguments about ownership. Nothing of historical value, I presume, or you’d have to wonder if we only knew about it by looking up shipwrecks.”
AgreedSuperiority. Seems Cecelia approves of Chloe’s judgment.
“Just a recreational vessel that went down a couple weeks ago,” Paul said. “Fools took their boat out for a night cruise with a storm coming. Dunno who owns it now, but I’d guess it’ll take them half a mil or more to pull it out of the ocean, and it’ll never be seaworthy again. Most likely, it’ll stay down there until it gets declared a historical site some time after we’re all gone to old age.”
I didn’t appreciate how dismissive he was of the people who died on that boat, but it was a bit much to expect him to have sympathy for strangers who got themselves killed. Perhaps I was less forgiving of him because of his transparent attempts to flirt with Cecelia, which said more about me than him.
“Well, I suppose under the circumstances, it made sense to be cautious,” I said to the captain. “Let your friend know we passed, and that we’ll be going over our contract with a fine-toothed comb again before signing.”
“Oh, he’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”
The rest of the trip was quiet, a two hour ride where I relied on my metal-sight almost as much as my natural sight. More than that, I could see deeper in water than I ever could on land; soil was like looking through fog, or perhaps a dust cloud, with countless tiny flecks of iron which obscured vision more than a few dozen feet through the earth. In the water, I could see to the bottom before any loss of vision started. The ocean floor was littered with metal debris, some of which must have been centuries old, and then an expanse of nothing until the vessel. I imagined this was as close to floating in space as I’d ever experience.
We stayed in the control room as they took to docking the ship, which heralded by another flurry of activity that we only stood to watch. Paul stood there watching for a while himself, as the crew moved about handling their tasks too fast for me to make sense of the bedlam. Cecelia stayed close to me, while Captain Cline kept Chloe near her, for whatever reason.
After another half hour, the chaos died down and some of the crew began to leave. Paul popped his neck by tilting his head to either side. My inner would-be doctor wanted to warn him off that habit, but I kept quiet. “Guess it’s time for us to get going. Thanks for the lift, you’re the best.”
“Just get off my boat, you useless freeloader.” Stinging words aside, the captain’s tone was relaxed and friendly. She turned to Chloe. “It was great to have you on board. Let me know if you ever want to give up the superhero business, and I’ll make sure you get a ship of your own some day.”
FlatteredReluctant. Chloe glanced at us. “Maybe I will. Depends on how this archeology hunt goes.”
Captain Cline laughed. “Well, try not to find everything, or you’ll have no reason to come back.”
“Don’t think there’s any danger of that,” Paul said. “There’s more ocean out there than anyone can explore in their lives. Now let’s get out of here before I get strapped to the anchor and tossed over.”
I grit my teeth as my shoulders burned from picking up the bag; Cecelia had done a number on me during our spar. WorryAssist. I’m fine, Chloe.
I ignored the pain, my own fault for fighting in heavy armor. From now on, I’ll set some more ground rules in my practice fights with either of the girls. Much as it galled me, I knew I was the weak link as far as combat was concerned.
Cecelia was the first out the door, followed by me and then Chloe. This time, the boat was almost empty, so we avoided the unwanted attention of our entrance during our exit. What few remained did stare at us, but even they were more concerned with getting off the boat, or settling in to wait for the ferry’s next stop in island-hopping. The crew seemed to be on cleanup duty now, no doubt in preparation for the next wave of passengers.
Being in front, Cecelia spotted Jaz and Wiki first, but she held back and let Chloe approach them. “How was it out here?”
“I got to play with a puppy!” Wiki didn’t notice that his shout attracted attention from the crew. He turned to face Jaz. “Ca-”
“No, Davin. For the five hundredth time, you cannot get a puppy. You know our apartment doesn’t allow them.” EmbarrassedAwkward ConfusedUncertain. As tired as Jaz sounded, she might not have been exaggerating about the number.
Davin’s lip started to quiver. He’s going to cry. Shit. I stepped forward, hoping to cut him off before he embarrassed us in front of the crew. “Dogs need lots of space. It’s cruel to lock them up in apartments when they need big yards to run in. You wouldn’t want to hurt the puppy, would you?” Such was Nanna’s excuse when Bea and I were in our respective ‘puppies’ phases, to varying levels of success; I hoped it would work on Wiki as well.
Wiki looked down. “No.”
Jaz mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ as she nudged her brother’s shoulder toward the ramp.
Chloe attempted a friendly wave at the gate attendant on our way off the ship, for some reason which was important to her, but I didn’t understand. Of the things I loved about her, it was her concern for others that stood out most to me. SurprisePleasedLove.
AnnoyanceFocus. I felt my armor become sluggish, and knew it had to be Cecelia draining a huge amount of spare power. RecognitionRealization. Cecelia hesitated for only a moment at the bottom of the ramp, then started walking across the large parking lot to the docks at the other side of the island. An island that, at this location, was narrow enough that you could throw a shell from one beach to the other. From what I could tell, the island was wider to our left, where a hotel marred a horizon otherwise defined by the line where ocean touched sky.
ConfusionCurious. Chloe picked up speed to catch up with Cecelia while the rest of us followed along, unsure of what was happening. Based on Cecelia’s confidence, I assumed she knew what she was doing, and could only hope it wouldn’t bite us in the ass. I felt bad treating her with suspicion, but the part of me that put logic over emotion recognized that I should keep a healthy amount of skepticism when it came to the serial killer we had on our leash.
Cecelia came to a stop near the far edge of the docks in front of a huge ship, at least in comparison to the others in the dock. It was bulky, designed for function over form, rather than the other boats on the dock which were designed to look nice. In a way, it reminded me of my old beater of a truck sitting next to the luxury vehicles of my school’s parking lot.
“See something special?” Paul asked. I turned, wondering why he was still following us.
SmugVictory. Cecelia’s mask was open, so we could see her smirk. “Oh, this is just the boat we’re supposed to get on.” RealizationConfusion.
Paul stood there for a moment, as if unsure what to say. In the end, he picked the ultimate avoidance tactic. “What makes you so certain?”
HesitationDecision. “Well, I ran a scan for ships with the equipment to go ship hunting, and this is the only one. Isn’t that right, captain?”
ShockAnnoyance. Right. What game is this, and when did Cecelia figure it out? I almost blamed her for not telling us sooner, but in retrospect there wasn’t much opportunity to do so without revealing her powers weren’t what she claimed. Claiming to have run a scan was an excellent excuse now, however. Pity we don’t have a real Gadgeteer on the team, I’d love some kind of communication system that won’t break in the first eight seconds of a fight. Our empathic bond seems to cause more problems than solutions half the time.
Paul let out a hearty laugh. “Looks like you caught me. I hope there’s no hard feelings, but I had to check you out ahead of time. I like to get to know my business partners before they know we’re partners. Captain Paul Cline, at your service.” I was closest, so it was me he extended his hand to.
I grabbed his hand, and let him do the squeezing. Against my liquid steel, his bones would break before I could feel anything. “Good to meet you.” We’re working with this guy? “So the other Captain Cline was…”
“My mother,” he said. “I’m a fourth generation sailor, born and raised. The ferry business is something we do to keep in the waters, but my passion is out there.” He extracted his hand from mine to make a sweeping gesture at the horizon. “I was born a couple hundred years too late for adventure on the high seas. But there’s something to be said for holding things that no man has laid eyes on in centuries.”
AmusementIncredulity. Yeah, is this guy for real? I decided it didn’t much matter, as long as he upheld his part of our deal. We’d gone in on the assumption we’d be working with someone who was in it for the money in the first place; if Paul had loftier motives, then there was nothing wrong with that. “Believe it or not, I’ve had a run-in with ancient history before.” Hope this time goes better than that one.
“Sounds like a story I’d like to hear sometime,” Paul said. “Welcome aboard the Last Horizon.”