My dear followers (I really must give you all a name)!
It’s Monday! Do you know what that means? It means that it’s time for the next part of Flickering Lights! *happy dance*
In case you missed any of the previous installments I shall list them below before jumping into Flickering Lights 5: Boarding Call.
And now, Flickering Lights 5: Boarding Call.
The medic probed Marcus’s head, feeling his lump. The swelling had gone down in the two days since the survivors of the rail wreck were rescued and taken to the Kindle Waystation via hovers. Because his injuries were dubbed “minor,” Marcus was one of the last sent to the medics at the compound. The examination pod was just large enough to fit a med bed, a few floating cabinets against the walls, and two aqua-lantern pegs. Winston’s green glow mingled with the pale blue, almost white, light of the medic’s darkfish. The medic scanned his head with something that beeped.
Marcus stared straight ahead until she pulled a cabinet over and started going through the medications. After a moment, she handed him a smallish bottle. “Take one of these whenever you get a headache or begin to feel dizzy.” She turned away and typed something into a glass screen. “You’re all done here.”
He slid off the table and picked Winston off the peg. The medic ignored him, and so he swiped his wrist, the door slid open, and he stepped into the hallway. The Kindle Waystation was a maze of hallways and corridors. He pulled out the mini flexglass all of the survivors had been given upon arrival and checked the map of the compound. “This way, Winston.” He turned right and followed the corridor. “I think.” About twenty minutes and a few wrong turns later, he found the quarters where he had spent the bulk of the last two days.
Hermes snoozed on one of the bunks. Marcus hung Winston up on the hook and settled onto his own bunk, staring out their little window into the darkness. There was a rapping on the door before it slid open, and Penelope ducked in.
“The rail from Kindle just arrived, and they’re going to start boarding us in an hour.” She shoved her hands into her pockets and leaned against the wall. “Are we going to wake the guiding light?”
Marcus cocked his head at her before glancing at Hermes. Guiding light. So Penelope. “Not yet.”
“You still going with him to Pollux?” She adjusted the hat—Marcus’s hat which she seemed to have no intention of returning. “I only ask because you’ve hardly spoken for the last two days, and I’m pretty sure Hermes is confused by your one word answers. Basically, you’re acting weird. Does that mean you won’t go with him to Pollux?”
“Not sure yet.”
She ambled over to his bunk and plopped down beside him. “Yeah, I bet. Well, they have a couple hovers taking some people back to Chryseis. At obscene cost, of course.”
She seemed to be holding her breath until she spoke again. “Can I give you a piece of advice?”
“Do I have a choice?”
She snickered and fiddled with her repaired spectacles-style nocturnals before taking them off. She turned to look straight at Marcus. Soft, white light filtered through blue-gray eyes. “I think you should still go.”
“Really. You do. Interesting.” Marcus threw a quick glance at the sleeping Hermes, careful to keep his voice low. “Hermes summoned an earthquake. An earthquake. And all he has to say about it is that he ‘prayed with expectation,’ whatever that means.”
“Hermes didn’t summon anything.” Penelope rubbed her neck. “El Roi is the One you can blame for the earthquake… sort of.” She held up a hand before Marcus could interrupt. “Anyway! That is beside my point. Think, Marcus. Don’t you have questions? I know I do. This is your chance to get answers!”
“After that earthquake, I don’t know if I want answers! Who knows what else could happen on this trip!”
“Why are you so afraid? I know why I’m afraid—because I haven’t been close with El Roi since I was a little girl, and it’s been so long that I don’t really know Him anymore—but why are you afraid?” She held up her hand again. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. But you need to know. What’s holding you back?”
Her light shown a little brighter, and Marcus blinked. “I’ll think about it.”
She smiled and stood. “Marcus, you may never get this chance again. Not only to go on a long trip, but to spend it with the undivided attention of one of the brightest beacons Murk has seen in the last two hundred years. You can probably throw any question you have at him, and he’ll most likely come up with an answer! Don’t pass up this chance to know a beacon who is what we’re all supposed to be.”
She pulled her nocturnals back on. “Not to mention the fact that I’m not sure that he has the common sense to last two steps on his own, but that might just be me.” And then she slipped out before Marcus could reply.
He stared at his hands. If he went back to Chryseis, he would have four hundred digits minus whatever the hover trip cost. He could apply to Arpel Tech just like he had planned. Life could go back to normal. No more train wrecks. No more dark hikes through the murklands. No more unnatural earthquakes. No more bright beacons.
He shoved off the bunk and shook Hermes’s shoulder.
“Hm?” Hermes rolled onto his back. “Hi.”
“A train for Kindle leaves in less than an hour. You need to go board.”
Hermes sat up. “What about you?”
“I’m going back to Chryseis.” Marcus dropped his bottle of medication into his pack.
“Ah, I see.” Hermes stood and stretched. “Are you sure?”
“Yep.” Marcus didn’t look at the beacon. “This is more than I bargained for.”
“I see.” Hermes’s voice wilted.
Oh, great. Now he’s sad. Marcus straightened and shouldered his pack.
“Here.” Hermes held out his wrist and sighed. “Here are your digits for your time.”
They swiped wrists, and Marcus stepped out of the room. “Good bye, Hermes.”
“Bye, Marcus. Thanks for all that you’ve done.”
Marcus grabbed Winston and strode down the hallway. Hermes’s light seemed to press against him until he rounded a corner, and he breathed a sigh. Was that relief or regret? After backtracking three different times, Marcus found the hover hanger. Eight vaguely triangular-shaped hovers filled the hanger as pilots and engineers prepared for flight. He haggled with one of the pilots. Finally, they swiped wrists, and Marcus boarded the hover for twenty-five digits. He strapped himself in and braced Winston between his knees. He had never been on a hover before, and there was a sick feeling in his stomach.
“First boarding call for the rail to Kindle,” a brassy voice blared over the waystation’s coms system.
Maybe he could find a new pod back in Chryseis. Something nicer, bigger. And maybe he could get Winston a friend. A few other passengers boarded the hover.
“Why are you so afraid? What’s holding you back?”
He held Winston up. “I’m doing the right thing, right, Winston?”
Winston looked out of the aqua-lantern, apparently enthralled by the checks the pilot was doing on the hover.
“Okay, so maybe not the right thing, but it’s the smart thing to do, Winston.”
Winston floated in place for a second before his fins gave a little flap.
“I mean, you seem to be taking this whole trip exceptionally well, with the rail explosion and being left with a stranger for an entire day. I do have to say that I’m impressed.”
Winston ignored him. Typical Winston.
“And, yeah, I can’t really picture Hermes making it all the way to Pollux on his own, but is it really worth it?” Marcus rubbed his forehead.
Winston drifted to one of the corners of the aqua-lantern.
“I wish you wouldn’t make me second-guess myself, Winston.”
Penelope’s oddly sincere eyes appeared. “Don’t you have questions?”
Marcus scrubbed his face.
Yeah, he did have questions. Painful questions that he had held onto for years after Marietta and Madden had committed suicide. Difficult questions that had strangled hope and stomped out joy. And now, he’d finally found someone who could give him some answers.
Marcus’s pulse thumped in his head, and he realized that he was gritting his teeth. He unclenched his jaw.
“Second boarding call for the rail to Kindle,” the voice announced.
Marcus unstrapped himself. “You know what, Winston? I’m sick of your attitude. We’re going to Pollux.”
Marcus leapt out of the hover and hit the ground running. The pilot was calling something after him, and he was vaguely aware that he had just thrown twenty-five digits away, but he found he didn’t care. He yanked his map out and dashed through the corridors. He ran into a few people, and he threw apologies as he staggered on, glancing from the map to the corridor signs along the way.
“Last boarding call for the rail to Kindle!”
He redoubled his speed, slipping and almost falling as he rounded a corner. People screeched as he raced past. “Slow down!”
He collided with someone, but was off again faster than a carbie on the run from the sepios. “Watch it!”
His lungs began to burn, and he paused for a moment to stare at the map again. It wasn’t far. He ducked through a doorway, rounded a few corners, and burst out onto the rail platform.
The rail was beginning to move.
He shoved Winston in his pack, slung it on both shoulders, and bolted as fast as his legs could carry him towards the last car. He didn’t waste breath on calling for it to wait. It wouldn’t.
It was getting faster, and he pushed himself. Pain lanced through his feet, up his calves. Spots scurried across his vision. He couldn’t miss that rail. He could not miss that rail. He wouldn’t miss that rail. He reached for the back of the last car. His fingertips brushed cool metal. So close. So close.
But it was getting too fast. It was pulling away, and he was running out of platform and strength. His boots pounded and when he came to the end of the platform, he flung himself at the last car. His fingers gripped the back of the rail as it picked up speed and moved outside the compound. Northern air knifed through his clothes, and he yelled as he tried to haul himself over the edge of the rail.
Don’t fall. Don’t die.
Suddenly, hands grasped his, and he looked up. Hermes and Penelope. Hermes dragged him over the side, and Penelope gripped his jacket as she tugged him completely onto the rail. He flopped over the edge to the ground, panting and aching everywhere.
“That was not your smartest move.” Penelope crouched down beside him.
“I had to get my hat.” Marcus gasped and rolled onto his stomach. “Give me my hat.”
She laughed and tugged his hat down over her ears. “What hat?”
“You all right? Want some oxygen?” Hermes ripped open Marcus’s pack and pulled out the oxygen tank.
Marcus took that tank and inhaled deeply while the two beacons hovered. Relief raced through his body, but he still ached. Hermes hauled him to his feet, his smile bright. “Our deal back on, Marcus?”
Marcus zipped up his jacket. “Yep. Let’s go to Pollux.”
You can read the next installment, Flickering Lights 6: Kindle, here.
Do you guys think Penelope’s sticking around for the rest of the trip?
Oh, and Winston’s attitude! That darkfish needs to work in his social skills!
Do you think Hermes will be able to answer Marcus’s questions?