Day 16. 64 pages, 30,044 words. Long Easter weekend flatline, although I will probably still be deleting and adding stuff throughout.
“Alright,” Çrom said, “don’t worry, don’t panic, this is a bit irregular but it doesn’t mean anything, just stay calm…”
“Who are you talking to?” Lotus asked.
“Myself,” Çrom said tensely. The vast white shape of the Destarion continued to approach, not appearing to slow down as she closed in on The Happy Bumfuck.
“Does the Godfang normally travel across the flatworld interiors?” Lotus said. She’d lowered her voice as the platform approached, a nonsensical instinct that Çrom understood all too well. “I thought she only flew up and down at the outer limit of the envelope and stopped at ports on the edges-”
“I thought so too,” Çrom whispered, “but it turns out that apparently I don’t know everything about everything,” the platform swept up, loomed in front of them like a hundred-kilometre cliff face … and stopped dead with about three hundred metres between the great bleached-bone hull and the hopper’s battered nose. “Think happy thoughts.”
“Are you still talking to yourself?” Lotus hissed.
The Destarion had not in fact stopped dead, Çrom realised belatedly. They were still cruising steadily along their straight-line path from the Eden Road to Material Depot #3 on the outer rim of Cursèd, and the platform had pulled up in front of them and smoothly reversed course to precisely match their speed. He considered their options and realised they didn’t really have any. He could stop, and the Godfang would likely stop as well. He could reverse, and she would follow. He could engage in whatever limited evasive manoeuvres The Happy Bumfuck was capable of performing, and she would match them with ease. She wouldn’t even need to move – any evasive pattern he selected would still take the hopper a couple of minutes to even get clear of the immense expanse of hull in front of them. And that was if she didn’t adjust course to block them.
The Happy Bumfuck had a couple of weapons, nestled in the sweet spot between nasty-enough-to-be-worth-hiding-from-standard-sweeps and nasty-enough-to-be-identified-by-more-exotic-scans. The idea of breaking them out and firing them at the Destarion made Çrom’s forehead break out in beads of actual cold sweat.
There were no communications. As far as the hopper’s computer was concerned, the Godfang was just there. Not scanning them, not checking their navigational logs, not preparing to obliterate them – or worse, if half of the stories Çrom had heard about the Destarion were true. As far as The Happy Bumfuck was aware, aside from the Godfang floating along in front of them, she might as well not be there at all.
“Çrom,” Lotus said.
As swiftly and silently as she’d arrived, the Destarion ascended and resumed her original course. The massive pale curve of hull whipped up past their window, tapering abruptly to the curved tip of the fang even as it closed with them, and then the whole platform swept by over their roof. The hopper’s proximity alarm gave a single nervous blat before realising the enormous obstacle had already passed by. Çrom hurriedly called up a rear-view and watched the huge tooth-shape receding into the distance under the shifting fungal lights. The Destarion came level with the final sweep of the Eden Road before the step-nations plunged up into the stone of Hell, banked casually on her tip, swept around the staircase and was gone.
Then, and only then, did Çrom resume breathing.
“Alright,” he reiterated, and willed his voice back to normal volume and tone. “Nothing to worry about. Just passing by and stopped to check us out. Understandable. It must get boring going up and down, up and down. That’s all it was.”
“You’re babbling,” Lotus noted. “Does the Godfang frighten you that much?”
“If she doesn’t frighten you,” Çrom said steadily, “you haven’t been paying attention. That right there was closer than I ever wanted to get to a Category 9.”
He tapped away the rear-view, set their sights back on the dreary blue-grey horizon, and slumped back in the helm sling. The sleep – to say nothing of possible pre-sleep activities – he’d been planning on attempting just two minutes earlier had been well and truly jolted from his mind. All he wanted to do was get to #3, burrow under two or three hundred kilometres of iron and treated stone, and pretend it offered any sort of protection whatsoever.
He suspected his next sleep would be troubled, and a long time coming.