The ship was buzzing with activity as everyone prepared to go out into the city housed within the Leviathan. While you wouldn’t think that thirteen people on a ship the size of a small apartment complex would ever be able to make it feel crowded, that day we couldn’t move three feet without running into each other.
Em was flying through her post-landing systems check. And if you’ve never seen a two-meter bear flying through the halls of a realspace freighter, let me just tell you that there was no getting in her way.
The Farseers were gone seemingly before we had even finished landing. What purpose drove them out among the crowds was unknown to us among the crew, but it was an unnecessary mystery in the face of our excitement to get off the ship.
Gator informed me early on that I was free to go ashore, but that I should expect to work hard once I got back. The decks would be well-used in the resupply. And that meant a good cleaning would be in order.
Though I had been given leave to go, I suddenly found myself paralyzed by a nameless fear of the unknown. The depths of space hadn’t done it. Being broke on my ass on a slum station hadn’t done it. Not even my nights lying awake waiting for Mearr had done it.
But walking out into an unknown city settled within the depths of a creature larger than a moon? That was enough to fill me with a wordless terror.
While I knew deep inside that it was no safer aboard the freighter than it was out in the city — at least as far as my fear of being swallowed was concerned — I found myself rationalizing that the freighter was an environment where I felt some measure of comfort and control.
Or, at the very least, I knew where I could hide among the nooks and crannies. This city did not offer that advantage.
“Where am I supposed to go?” I quietly said before Gator turned around.
“What was that?” he said, not quite catching my words.
“I’m just wondering what I should do,” I said. “I’ve never had a shore leave before, y’know.”
“Ah,” said Gator, followed by a mechanical whirring as his suit shifted functionality. “I suppose you have a point.”
He paused for a long moment, perhaps considering how to deal with me, perhaps just distracted by a dozen other responsibilities he had on his mind. Before he could come to a conclusion about what to do with me, however, Sys and Mearr bolted up the hall.
“Heya, hatchling,” said Mearr. “What’re you still doing here? Is Gator making you clean the showers again?”
Sys clicked out a laugh. “Gator should know better. He and I can both see that you scrubbed out all the microbes a month ago. I do not see how any more could have gotten on the ship.”
“No, no,” said Gator. “Hatchling is free to go.”
“Oh, well great, then,” said Mearr, wrapping an arm around mine. “You can come with us. We’ll find some sort of crazy alley in this over-saturated town.”
The prospect of being led through a strange city by Mearr was at once both terrifying and exhilarating. It wasn’t hard to tell that she loved a challenge, especially those brought on by new experiences. And a Leviathan city was probably full of both. Whether I shared this sentiment directly or not didn’t much matter to Mearr, I just had to decide if I liked it or not.
As far as that goes, it depended on the day.
Before the two of them could drag me off the ship, however, Gator raised a finger and interrupted their excitement.
“Not so fast,” he said. “The captain has decided that you two need to finish cleaning up your mess in the cockpit before you get any shore leave. You have left it for far too long enough now, and he will not permit us to go any further into interplanetary space until you bring us back to full capacity.”
“Are you serious?” said Sys.
“We told you,” said Mearr, still hanging on my arm. “We need an updated networking hub to finish what we’ve done. It’s not going to be complete without it.”
“Noted. And the captain will look for one while we are here. But regardless, you need to finish it now. I do not care what it takes, or how long you have to spend fixing it. Just make it happen.”
Mearr sighed and slowly let go of my arm as Gator turned away. “I guess we’ll catch up with you later,” she said. “Try and find a decent bar before then, okay? Looks like we’ll need it.”
With that, she turned back toward the cockpit, beckoning to Sys as she passed.
Once they were gone, I sighed. “Now what am I supposed to do?”
I heard a quiet chuckle from behind me and turned.
Guhle stood leaning against a bulkhead, arms crossed. “Looking for something to do, eh?”
I didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, Guhle only let me squirm for a short time in my discomfort.
“C’mon, hatchling,” he said, cocking his head toward the gangplank. “I’ll show you around.”
As Guhle led the way down the gangplank, I cast one last glance in the direction of the cockpit, wondering if Mearr and Sys would ever finish those repairs. Then I followed him.