The young captain ran down the wooden steps and bounded down the hall. The Lodestar was split into two levels — the first a series of bunk-rooms for the crew, and below a large cargo hold that housed the Galley and the Engine. Talitha continued to hum as she bopped along, letting her hand trail along the wooden walls, crayon-box painted nails scratching on the doors. As they had since the ship was discovered, the fine wooden doors were garishly painted with symbols to identify them. Sun Room, Moon Room, Red Circle, Blue Circle, Green Circle, Star. She had made up a very elaborate song about them when she first came on board, but her
excitement would not allow her to call it to mind.
Her excitement would allow her to pester Della, however.
Talitha hooted and banged on the door marked with the Blue Circle and then kicked it open without waiting for an answer. The room had two bunks bolted to one wall, one above the other. A roughly crafted wooden rack was nailed to the opposite wall. It had once bristled with all types of magical weaponry, but not only a rusty broadsword and dented buckler hung there. A pile of sheets and quilts quivered on the lower bunk, contracting as if to defend itself from the noise and the overly boisterous blonde captain.
“GOOD MORNING, DELLA,” Talitha bawled and flopped her narrow posterior into the center of the blanket-monster’s girth.
“Groan,” the blanket actually said the word ‘groan’.
“PERHAPS YOU WOULD LIKE TO RISE AND JOIN US IN THE CARE AND OPERATION OF THE SHIP?”
“WHAT,” Talitha bounced cheerily. “WHAT DELLA I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU JUST SAID.”
The blanket monster contracted further, then hurled Talitha flailing across the room. The rust-brown quilt flipped down to revealed a wide face smeared with sweat and squished with sleep. Della’s maimed hand appeared and pushed lank hair out of her face. Talitha’s first mate had lost two fingers off her left hand during the devil’s assault on her hometown. She was also three years older than the captain, but had taken to her duties as pilot and first mate with casual equanimity. It seemed that Della had some sky-pirate in her blood, and as long as Talitha kept pointing the bow of the ship toward thunderstorms and pillage, the broad-shouldered woman was content.
“What do you want, Captain?” Della said politely, scratching her chest.
“So, Della,” Talitha came back and sat down on the edge of the bunk. “I’m about to do something probably a little more dangerous and stupid than usual. Is that a problem?”
Della snorted and pulled the blanket back over her heard.
“Della. I’m serious,” the captain leaned in close and whispered. “I’m really asking your advice.”
“Do I have to get up?” the blanket-monster asked.
“Uhh…”Talitha considered it. ” I guess not.”
The captain patted the quilted bulk and rocketed out the door. The narrow sliver of permission and acceptance fueled her steps toward the cargo bay. Talitha grabbed the rail to the set of steps that lead below and paused. Something…
With a start, Talitha looked up at the ceiling. She stared directly into a mirror.
Or rather, into the face of her twin.
“What are you doing?” Sinoe asked.
Her twin had braced her arms and legs against the wooden struts that supported the deck above. She seemed completely at ease, as if she had been there for some time.
“Dammit, Sin,” the captain growled, running fingers through her hair. “What are you doing up there?”
Her twin blinked. This was a new trick she had learned, blinking. Talitha had taught it to her as a way to show confusion during a conversation, or surprise, or sarcastic disdain. Talitha had little doubt what this blink was supposed to indicate.
The captain made a rough leap and grabbed her twin’s torso. She hung in the middle of the hall, letting her feet dangle. Sinoe looked at Talitha, her face showing no strain or discomfort from the added weight. Except for her twin’s hair being purple and Talitha’s being gold, the two were like a pair of bookends. As Talitha grew tired of explaining, as a child she had been kidnapped and replaced with a doppelganger, a cunning doll designed to mimic her in every way. It had been a simple device, but after much work and reconstruction by the Lodestar’s engineer, the doll had become something more than it was. The captain giggled and pulled herself up and planted a kiss on Sinoe’s cheek before dropping back to the floor. Her twin blinked again.
Talitha had been nine when Sinoe was built and now she was thirteen. The doll and the engineer had matched every growth spurt, every bony knee and awkward hip. The captain wrinkled her nose as she galloped down the stairs. I wonder what it’s going to be like when we both get our period?
The captain of the Lodestar clattered down the stairs to the Cargo Bay. Talitha loved the ship, the deck and the sky most of all, the weird rooms still crammed with debris from old adventures and great battles. But she knew that the Engine was the heart of the ship, the ancient technology that made her ship fly through the air, faster and better than the anything else in the world. The magenta radiance filled the bay as she hit the last step, her eyes eager to spot her engineer and discuss something of greater danger and stupidity than usual.
[to be continued?]