“VAGABONDER.” Talitha called sweetly at the top of her lungs. “HEY, VAGABONDER.”
There was no immediate sign of her engineer, so she took a moment to enjoy the sprawling mad-tumble of her ship’s cargo bay. The interior was all darkwood, gleaming with fresh seal and polish, the sizable bay split into five sections — four small rooms in each corner: the Galley, Toolroom, Engineer’s Quarters, and Miscellaneous Stuff — with the main floor-space occupied by the Floatstone Engine.
The blonde girl smiled as she approached. Something about the cool magenta light and sedate turn of the stone always made her feel good. The main part of the
engine was in the center of the bay, on a raised platform. A vast glass cylinder lay on its side, over twice her height in diameter, capped on each end with brass and steel, bristling with lights, toggles, and wires — the largest of which fed down into the under-deck of the ship, and up into a massive console that sat adjacent. But her eyes were only for the stone, the Floatstone. It was roughly shaped like a potato, pocked and asymmetrical. It neatly filled its glass container, spinning in a calm gyre. Talitha knew that if the stone were ever removed from the Engine, it would shoot right through the roof and never stop going until it left this planet behind.
Maybe I can strap myself to it. The captain’s plan wasn’t quite as reckless as Floatstone Riding, but she would work on a saddle just in case. Ultimately, it would have the same effect as her current strategy. Out. Out and about.
“Okay, seriously. Where are you?” the blonde girl spun slowly.
Her engineer swung into view, not from his quarters or the Galley as she had expected. But horizontally from behind some nearby crates, as if he were standing on the righthand wall of the bay.
“Oh, Captain!” the tall goblin’s olive-green face split in a bemused smile. “What a pleasure, what a delight!”
Talitha walked over and saw that her engineer was wearing his Molasses Moccasins, a cunning device of his own design that allowed him to stick to surfaces as ably as most spiders and some roaches. It also left a dank, black residue everywhere he walked, requiring furious scrubbing with a mop on an extended pole when he would complete his wall-walking jaunts. There were several magical objects that had an identical effect without all the sticky goo and cleanup, but Talitha had learned early that her Engineer had a particular way of doing things. his own primrose path of popcorn and baling wire– and often would come upon most peculiar solutions on his way.
The Vagabonder slowly squelched down the wall, more of his tall form coming into view. He was nearly seven-feet tall, with a wild brush of cotton-white hair a stark contrast to his green skin. Long, spidery fingers danced on a control cluster hanging from his belt, and absently pushed the delicate safety glasses he always wore up onto his forehead. Talitha had bought him some proper goggles, steel reinforced with smoked lenses — but he had politely refused, much preferring the transparent plastic ones he favored that could be bought by the box at any well-appointed lab supply store. She had never known him by any other name than ‘The Vagabonder’ and he seemed to require nothing further. Only time to explore and improve his one true love, the Lodestar.
The goblin slid out of his moccasins and placed them delicately in a nearby pail dedicated to that purpose. He cast around for his Long-Mop. “You seem excited, child. I can only assume you have devised some new adventure, some hidden place on the globe that we will soon be flying?”
Talitha took a breath. She was the captain, and her first mate was older than she was — but the Vagabonder was a Full-Fledged Adult. And while she and her crew were allowed to come and go as they pleased, her extended family had made it very clear that the engineer was ultimately in charge. He would never allow her – or his beloved ship — to go into any true danger. Not without a surreptitious call or two to make sure the Cavalry was in the wings. She would have to approach this topic very carefully, and with a degree of tact. She ran a hand through her poorly coiled skull-locks to collect her thoughts before she began, keeping her tone determinedly casual.
“Oh, I don’t know. We’ve run around the planet so much, and seen so many things. Maybe it’s time to turn my attention, you know, to different things.”
The Vagabonder nodded affably as he dunked his mop into a nearby basin of soapy water. He thumbed the flashing green button that slowly extended the tool to sufficient length to clean his footprints off the wall and ceiling.
“And I remembered something you told me, about the Lodestar. I mean, I know it was made by the Precursors and all…”
“Yes!” the goblin swabbed with excitement. “And can I say, it does my heart good just thinking about you, the last Scion of that fabulous race, as captain of their greatest ship.”
Talitha puffed our her cheeks. The Lodestar was fast, the fastest, but she had seen far greater devices in her travels. The great city of Kythera alone — she shook her head. She was the last descendant of the Precursors, as far as anyone knew, and that fact had put her in a great deal of danger, and lead her to some pretty destructive moments. Not everyone has destroyed a city by singing a song. It was something she didn’t like to think about much, but the tall goblin was excited about the topic, so she changed tack.
“Right, right! I am, yes, no other Precursors anywhere. That’s what I was thinking. And I started thinking about how you’re always talking about the ‘black boxes’ all around the ship, the secrets of the Floatstone Engine…” she let her voice trail off, encouraging the engineer to pick up the trail.
The Vagabonder did not disappoint. It was one of his favorite topics.
“YES. After all this time aboard, I am still so far from truly understanding their purpose. During the War, we were doing our best to stay ahead of the devils, or doing our best to catch up with you and your kidnappers to really delve into the true power of this ship. Ah, the ship was barely at Level Zero when I came on board, but with patience and work we brought her up to Level Four…but then, ah I hit a brick wall. There’s something I don’t understand, some tool I lack. I had hoped to spend some time delving into the Arkanic Computer that Captain Carbunkle found on Kythera, but he took it with him back to Pice. The Lodestar is the fastest ship in the world, it’s true, but I know she can do more, if only we could find the way,” the engineer’s long fingers flexed on the handle of the Long-Mop with excitement.
“Right, right,” the current-captain smiled. He’s on the hook. Time to reel him in. “That’s what I was thinking. I think you’ve been missing the right tool. And what better tool to unlock the secret of the Precursors then…”
The Vagabonder gasped and let the Long-Mop fall to the floor, suds and mollasses stains forgotten.
“…the last of the Precursors?” Talitha grinned, innocent as a baby sheep nibbling on the first green grass of spring.