There is no silence on a ship, just as there is no silence in the sea. The most peace you can hope for is an uninterrupted hum that your mind can tune out…a buzz, a burr, a growl in the background that you become so accustomed to that when it actually stops you feel as if you’ve misplaced something. Now, I have spent some time among the Terrans—mostly in school—and I have NEVER had the discomfort of being assaulted by such a screeching wail as assaults my eardrums the next morning.
“Sweet waters above!” I screech, clasping my hands over my ears as my blankets fly about, “What hideous torture are you inflicting on which creature?” Princess Whiskers hisses at me before jumping up into the bookcase, pushing a number of heavy, leather-bound books onto my head, and yowling plaintively before curling into an impossibly tight ball.
“Oh, Envoy!” the young man blushes and averts his eyes, his finger releases the trigger of his tool and the horrible, electric wailing slows to a halt. “I’m sorry, I thought you’d be at breakfast! Caleb told me to change the door when we turned over this morning…I had no idea you’d still be abed…” He turns his entire back to me and I lower my hands from my ears, reaching for a robe that hangs next to the bed, before replying.
“No, it’s fine,” I tie the belt around my waist and am now, mercifully, covered from neck to ankle in plush, navy blue cashmere embroidered with the crest of the Queen Averna across the left breast. “Please, continue with your task,” I murmur, turning to the table bolted to the floor and leafing through the letters there. I haven’t even been aboard a full day and I already have numerous requests from other passengers to join them for ANY meal and I groan. Terrans and their social eating, it’s repulsive. Plus, I hate the myriad rules that go along with it; use this fork for that food, this spoon for that liquid…drink only so much of this, or that, with one thing or another…it’s all quite exhausting and unnecessary.
The Mer don’t dine. We eat. We eat socially only because it’s easier to hunt together than apart. Less chance of other predators taking that which we’ve labored over, you see. We don’t “cook” and we don’t “refrigerate” and I think one of the Walkabout said it best when he wrote;
Our lives are Beautiful,
…so perhaps you can understand why I don’t like dining, even though I understand the necessity of it as an Envoy.
“Are you certain, Envoy?” the young man asks and I turn my attention back to him. Unlike Caleb he’s wearing some sort of one-piece clothing riddled with various stains with a simple undershirt, and dark, damaged boots.
“Yes, please,” I sigh, smiling at him as I add, “I can’t very well get dressed until you do, now can I?” He stammers, face going bright red, and I laugh. “What’s your name, friend of Caleb?”
“Joshua, Ma’am,” he replies, and for the first time since he barged in on me he raises his eyes—dark, warm chocolate eyes—before attempting a clumsy bow.
“Joshua,” I put my hand on his chin and raise his gaze to mine once more before adding, “I thank you for your prompt response to my request. Please take the time you need and have no fear that you will disturb me further.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Joshua says, sandy curls bending back to the doorway as the horrible hum spins up again. It doesn’t last long, however, as he expertly removes the hinges and replaces the hatch with something equal (blue enamel with turquoise whorls worked into it) yet less ostentatious than what was there before. “What shall I do with this?” Joshua asks after he’s packed up all his tools.
“Whatever you’d do with such a thing, I suppose,” he smiles—a quick grin that quirks his lips before being erased—and I am forced to ask, “What?”
“Well, Ma’am, time was we’d either sell it in port somewhere, or jettison it over the side,”
“And now?” his secret smile is infectious, and I find myself grinning as well,
“Now we know about the Mer, Ma’am, and you all don’t take kindly to our ‘jettisoning’ things anymore.”
“No,” I say, grin broadening now that I understand, “we do not. I suppose you ought to sell it then,”
“Not mine to sell, Ma’am. It was created at the behest of the Mer Envoy, so it belongs to you now.”
“I think we both know that I want NOTHING to do with that travesty,” Joshua nods, curls catching stray sunlight and gleaming, “so why don’t you and Caleb sell it and buy something nice for the crew? Nicer tools, perhaps?” He grins, a conspiratorial gleam in his eyes, before bowing his way out of my room and muttering,
“Much obliged to you, Ma’am,”
“My name is Niharika,” I call after him and as the door whispers shut I hear,
“I know, Ma’am,” before the latch engages and I am alone with my kitten and the wind.
As with all things, being an Envoy means that I am expected to represent more than myself. Which is funny, because the Mer never had this “Identity” before; you were what you were and if there were problems between two individuals their Meisters would attempt to come to a mutually satisfactory solution or the ‘Solved would be called upon to adjudicate. Once the ‘Solved were involved a solution would be reached but (more often than not) it would be one that was satisfying to neither of the interested parties, though considered just by those outside the conflict.
In any event, I find a small door that leads to another room in my suite, but this one is half-filled with clothes, and the other half is empty storage. You see, I can’t simply ‘get dressed,’ I have to dress in accordance with the time of day, the activities I intend to engage in, and the expected accoutrement of those around me. It simply wouldn’t do to arrive at breakfast in pajamas, any more than it would be acceptable to dine at the Captain’s table wearing jeans, blouse and blazer.
When I was informed that I was being assigned as an envoy I received a crash course in Terran niceties and was assisted by a Walkabout who was considered the epitome of all that is Mer in Congress. A lovely woman from the Deep who’d dyed her hair a brilliant, cartoonish red, with long, pale limbs that always seemed in motion even when she was standing still. She took me to a number of boutiques and shops, and the experience was not unlike the first time my mother took me to The Reef and blinded my eyes with unfamiliar colors in unimaginable numbers.
While I am a Lesser ‘Solved, I still cannot solve the mystery of why humans like to clothe themselves in harsh, unrelenting fabrics that scratch or prick the skin. My guide, Elondiata said that everything was chosen either because of utility or effect. A harsh fabric might be warmer, a stiff fabric might make a visual line, and so on. It all seems silly to me. I hated learning about heat and cold, the water IS, and whether it is warmer or colder is only a matter of degrees and easily adjusted for by even the youngest Mer. I must confess; I do love the soft silks and satins that hold color so well. As long as I am forced by my duty to wear this flesh I am grateful that my position allows me to wrap it in fine things.
So I search though the closet and find a suitable morning dress with which to meet people and have breakfast in; a simple, copper-colored silk shift adorned with bright leaves of gold and crimson. It covers me from neck to knee and comes with an over wrap—not quite a jacket, vest or coat—in a deep, dark loam with matching colored leaves. The lovely jewel tones vie with my hair in luster, and I twist the long, ebony waves into a fashionably messy knot at my neck as I slip my feet into simple flat shoes.
Before I leave I pull the bedding into some semblance of order and transfer Princess Whiskers to the pile of pillows before she can take a swipe at me for disrupting her beauty rest. Joshua has discreetly left the key to the new hatch on a loop of…rope?...line?...what DO mariners call such a small amount of cord? Anyway, I loop it over my head and the key nestles between my breasts as the cord slips from sight. Locking the door behind me, I stop a moment to look at the map conveniently located in an alcove between the main living quarters but before you step into the Gardens.
I find that, if I skirt the Gardens and follow the main passageway toward the back of the ship—Aft, I remind myself—then I will have no problem locating the main deck and the primary dining facilities. As the Queen Averna used to be a war vessel, somethings were simply too expensive to change without disrupting the entire support structure of the ship and so unlike a number of luxury cruisers I explored Beneath, the Queen Averna is mostly saved from having endlessly useless space; the Gardens being the exception to the rule. Stepping as lightly as I can, I stop wincing after my hundredth step and affix a pleasant smile to my face. Most of the Terrans give me no second glance, but the ship’s crew is well aware of my presence and every time I pass one of them they stop and give me a cursory nod/bow before returning to whatever task is at hand. I don’t see many dressed like Joshua, and those I do see are turning wrenches or ducking into secondary passageways…they do not remain out in sight of the ‘guests’ any longer than they are required. It’s a small question, I understand that different tasks require different skills, and I am well past it by the time I arrive at the (quickly emptying) dining hall. I start striding toward an empty table, but am intercepted by a short, dark woman who firmly but politely steers me toward the back.
“Good Morning, Ma’am,” she purrs, her voice something akin to smoke and whiskey, “if you’ll forgive me, but the lateness of the hour requires that we begin preparations for lunch. Will you be satisfied with this seat, or would you like to return for lunch? Perhaps take something with you?” I smile, recognizing the non-negotiable options she presents and pleased that not everyone on this ship is willing to bend over backward. Not even for the Envoy that guarantees their safe passage.
“I would like some bread, a roll perhaps?” I admit to a weakness for bread…there is nothing like it among the Mer and it is one of the few reasons I would ever consider remaining Above. The girl nods and disappears from my side; leaving me stranded among the white-apron wearing throng as they efficiently clear and clean the large space. I do my best to remain against a wall and not interfere. First they remove all the detritus from the meals, then they remove the linens. A pair of burly men perform some sort of magic on the tables and they collapse, before the men place them on a rolling cart and move to the next. Behind them four men, each with a rolling contraption of his own, gathers the chairs and stacks them onto his device. Once all the furniture is cleared, a number of huge machines starts whirring their way across the carpeted hall and the girl reappears with a basket full of different types of bread, a small pot separated into quadrants and filled with soft, savory cheeses, and a few pieces of fresh(ish) fruit.
“Will this suffice, Envoy?” she asks and I nod, bewildered as the basket is handed over and its sudden weight makes me stagger. “Our dining hours are from…” she lists the hours off by rote and I nod, remembering that they’re also posted on the back of my (new) hatch/door/whatever, in my room.
“Thank you,” I say, but the girl is already far from me and I step around the scurrying throng of activity until I can reach one of the guest stairwells. Reading the map, I climb four sets of stairs to the main deck and push my way into the bright, clean day. Unlike last night, multitudes of chairs, loungers, and dining groupings have been set up. Brightly colored umbrellas transform the grey deck into a riot of color and a laughing group of teenagers engages in a game of some sort on the newly appeared lawn behind the tower. Safety nets have been raised to keep people from falling off inadvertently, and many of those assembled seem to have nothing better to do than to bask in the late morning sun.
None of the civilian guests know, but unlike other luxury liners the Queen Averna is still a functioning warship. Whereas in the past her defense rested on other ships and the aircraft she carried, now she’s been outfitted to defend herself as well as maintain, carry and launch rotary craft (helicopters). Aside from the geodesic domes protruding from the front of the ship (the ‘bow’…must remember to speak to the ship’s company properly), the silhouette of the Queen Averna is the same as the aircraft carrier from which it was constructed. The hallways are tight, and many of the fixtures protrude at odd angles that cannot be modified without gutting major systems such as fire suppression or equipment cooling, which leaves the slightly claustrophobic walkways between the false walls meant to enhance the aesthetics on the passenger decks.
So it’s refreshing to be above decks. The wind dances across the ship with almost no pattern, but the domes shielding the indoor garden provide some protection to those striding to and fro in pursuit of…something. I don’t really get it; chase a ball, watch a ball be chased, or walk repeatedly around the same space at varying speeds…”exercise” is something Terrans do for fun and Mer do to survive. There are no couches underwater, and no way to escape from the elements.
Didn’t you ever wonder why no one found any substantive proof of the Mer before the Unveiling? Mer don’t construct things. We exist. Live, grow, breed, die. Maybe find the answer—or part of the answer—to the question that everyone is trying to Solve. And no, I can’t tell you the answer…that’s part of the problem. The answer is different for everyone, that’s why there are so many choices/paths/options to help people find it.
“Is this seat taken?” a young woman with shoulder-length, black hair asks me. I look up into a face that is friendly and open, defined and yet soft. Her light brown eyes seem to sparkle with mirth but her simple, cotton dress makes her seem more girlish than the woman she actually is.
“No, of course,” I answer as she pulls out a chair and positions it under the umbrella’s shade. The sun beats against my back and I hear gulls crying overhead…a sure indicator that we are still close to shore.
“So why did YOU get the deluxe carbohydrate breakfast?” she asks as she helps herself to my over-full basket.
“Late to breakfast,” I murmur, selecting a bagel with everything, tearing it open, and slathering it with plain cream cheese. Terrans are always so fast to add flavors to their food—they miss out on the individual value of their sustenance—that I often find most specialty cuisine confusing if not unpleasant. My…guest…heaps piles of cream cheese upon her own bagel until I’m reminded of the adage, “Have some coffee with your sugar,” and a slight smile quirks my lips. Perhaps it’s a common reaction because she smiles knowingly and swiftly chews/swallows her food before chirping,
“I know, it’s bagels and cream cheese, but I just can’t seem to get enough of the stuff!” her eyes twinkle and I am again surprised by the simple delight the Terrans take in everyday situations. After a few more swift bites the woman glances at me from under her lashes and I see a flash of piercing intellect underneath her happy-go-lucky exterior.
“At least it’s of a high-quality,” I add, realizing that she’s expecting some response from me.
Chit chat, Elondiata whispers in the back of my mind, seems to be necessary for Terrans to gauge each other. Be polite, respond accordingly, make some positive statement about the topic at hand and let them do the rest. Her advise has stood me in good stead thus far, so I smile and take another bite, waiting for her to fill the silence.
“Everything, the best!” she quips, a sardonic twist of her lips and imperceptible tilting of her brow reminds me of Princess Whiskers when she’s plotting something. “At least, that’s what it says on the brochure.”
“I missed that one,” I murmur, finishing my food and signaling a waiter. “Juice please,” I say and he nods, not bothering to ask what kind as I have already informed the crew of my preferences.
“So, what?” the gamine asks, turning the full attention of her piercing eyes to me. She has a sharp little nose that adds to the angularity of her face and I am again reminded of a cat up to no good. “You’ll just take whatever kind of juice? You like a mystery?”
“I do I reply, slanting a smile back at her, “and if ‘everything’s the best’ as the advertisements say, I am bound to be satisfied, am I not?” She settles herself back into her chair, and leans back, gazing intently at the circling gulls.
“I suppose so,” she murmurs, falling deeply into thought. I wait a few minutes on the deck, but as she seems to have forgotten about me I excuse myself (leaving the basket on the table) and return below decks.
I am unsettled by this exchange; I thought all humans on the Averna who weren’t working were pleasure seekers, and the unnamed girl with the feline eyes and dark hair makes me wonder if the Terran world also conceals deep currents. But it is too much, between traveling to make it to port on time and the stress of surfing the ship I am exhausted and return to my quarters, pausing only long enough to lock the door behind me and strip off my dress to fall in a puddle at the foot of the bed before darkness claims me again.
Crashing Entry: 03