Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chapter 13 (begun)


The dock was possibly the most normal thing Johnny had seen since they’d arrived in the swampworld.  It was an old but perfectly normal-looking short wooden structure, L-shaped, extending perhaps twenty feet from a small hummock and then striking out parallel to the channel for another ten feet or so.  Johnny wasn’t sure, but it seemed like at least part of the area enclosed by the small dock wasn’t actually water.  This didn’t seem to bother Roger, however, who guided the boat slowly but surely around the dock’s spur.

“Um, Roger?”  Johnny didn’t have to yell, because there was a brass speaker on the flying bridge that connected to an identical one in the wheelhouse, with the curious result that he could speak to Roger in a lower voice from here than he could if he’d been standing right next to her.  “I think we’re going to bottom out ...”

“Aye, that we are!”  Roger’s voice was tinny but bright over the speaker.  It didn’t really sound like any speaker Johnny had ever heard before; he hadn’t figured out what powered it, and Larissa had offered no insight.

Roger did something with the wheel which caused the boat to fishtail alarmingly, and Johnny and Larissa had to grab on to the rails around the flying bridge to keep from being knocked over.  The ship completed the U-turn and nosed into the dock’s enclosed area.  Johnny was positive that at least some of what was under the hull was solid ground—well, as solid as the ground in this place ever got—but that didn’t seem to stop it.  Roger nosed the ship neatly into the inside corner of the dock until it gently bumped the wooden planks, and the only abnormal thing was the squishy noise that accompanied it.  Johnny assumed that was the noise of a large wooden airboat being drug across marshy ground.

Roger cut the fan, and Johnny and Larissa rejoined her on the deck.  “Will we be able to get out again?” Johnny asked.

Roger looked at him as if this were a lunatic question.  “Now, why, me fine feckled friend, would I drive us into a place that I could not get us back out of?”  She grinned and tossed her ponytail as she turned to head for the dock.

“Airboats can’t travel in reverse,” Larissa ventured.

“This one can!” came from Roger’s retreating back.

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The dock was still sturdy, but showing its age.  There were splits in the boards and pilings, and places where chips had fallen out or rotted away.  The wood was slightly soft from the pervasive damp.  Roger was tying off the ship with algae-covered ropes that seemed like they should be falling apart any second, but they held the ship firm.  Johnny walked to the corner of the dock, where the ship’s figurehead protruded over the planks so that he would have to duck to go past it.  He stopped and stared at it for a moment; he hadn’t gotten a clear look at it before.  It was a full-length wooden sculpture of a naked woman who seemed to be floating, or perhaps riding, on clouds.  It was unpainted, but very detailed.  The woman looked lithe and quite young, with a mischievous expression.

Johnny was startled by a hand on his shoulder.  “That’s The Sylph, me bucko.  Ship named after the girl or girl named after the ship, I never knew which.  But she’s older than I am, she is.  Although she don’t look it, eh?”  Roger winked at Johnny and elbowed him in the side, which Johnny found vaguely disconcerting.

They ducked under the figurehead and strode down to the end of the dock, where there was ... nothing.  The dock just ended.  The two pilings at the very end extended high up into the air, forming a sort of gateway to walk through.  But Roger put a hand on one of these poles, leaned out over the marsh, and then swung herself around and onto the relatively dry ground of the hummock.

Johnny and Larissa stopped and stared at her.  “Well, you don’t want to be walking through the posts.  That’s for berks who don’t know no better.”

Johnny said, “But we know better?”

Roger looked exasperated.  “Well I just told ya better, ain’t I?”

Johnny found he couldn’t argue with this logic.  He tried to duplicate Roger’s acrobatic move, but he ended up with one foot on the slope and another in the watery muck.  Although this put a healthy amount of liquid in his right boot, it also put him in a good position to help Larissa transition around the pole, so he planted himself firmly and half-lifted her off the dock and onto the little hill.  Larissa, like Johnny, was wearing new clothes from Roger’s cinema-pirate wardrobe along with her regular shoes, but Larissa had kept her light-green jacket, while Johnny had been forced to ditch his heavier coat in the oppressive heat.  The humidity played hell with your hair here, so Larissa had adopted a ponytail like Roger’s, and Johnny had taken up a bandana.  The end result was that they now resembled movie pirates just like Roger, from the ankles up.  Looking at Larissa now, and knowing he looked the same, Johnny was reminded of going to a Renaissance Faire and seeing some folks who had made a brave attempt to dress the part, but failed when it came to finding period-appropriate footwear.

Bones came scurrying down the dock in his usual frenetic manner.  When he reached the end, he lept straight up, bounced off the outside post, pushed off Johnny’s chest, bounded off Larissa’s head, and glided smoothly to Roger’s shoulder before Johnny could finish his “oof.”  The red and blue creature gave a characteristic squawk and said “Thank’ee so, lubbers!”  Roger threw her head back and laughed.

Larissa brushed the hair out of her eyes and glared at Bones.

Johnny extracted his foot from the muck and joined the others on the hillside.  Together they walked the eight or ten steps to its crest and stopped to look out over the marshy land.

It was strange that the view from this point, which was only a few feet above the level of the water—lower even than the vantage from the flying bridge—should look so different, but somehow it did.  What lay ahead was more scrubby trees than they’d yet seen in one place, and fewer puddles and more ground mist.  It still wouldn’t be accurate to refer to this as “woods,” but it was possibly the closest they were going to see in this vast swamp.  The trees weren’t tall, but they were close set, and covered with vines and Spanish moss.  It seemed darker out there, though of course the light was exactly the same as it had always been.

Johnny turned to Roger.  “We’re walking through that?”

Roger maintained her sunny smile.  “Well a’course we are.  That’s the way to get to the Guide, and we gotta get to the Guide, so we gotta go that way.  Seems straight enough, don’t it?”

Johnny looked doubtful.  “Is it safe?”

Roger grinned widely and slapped him on the back.  “Johnny, me boyo, livin’ ain’t safe.  Now let’s get to gettin’!”

She and Bones swaggered down the hill at a brisk pace.  Johnny and Larissa followed more cautiously.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chapter 12 (concluded)

It was like time was suspended.  The ship pushed its way through the floating plants, and the “mizzle” eventually stopped.  The dragonflies came back, but the allsalve was apparently doing its job, because the mosquitoes kept their distance.  The bright blue water snakes, which Roger just referred to as “snakes,” swam around the ship, and occasionally did try to climb on board, but they just tossed them back.  This was sometimes difficult, as they had a tendency to wind around your arm and not let go.  They didn’t appear to be attacking, though, just getting comfortable.  More of the bat-like birds, always solitary, flew overhead now and again, and they had feathery batwings with a span longer than Johnny’s arm.  Their plumage was a soft gray, like mourning doves; Johnny wanted to ask Larissa if she still thought they were frigate birds, but suspected the question might upset her.  Larissa watched everything, but spoke little.

Since there was no day or night, they just slept whenever they were tired, at different times, so there was always someone guiding the ship and always someone watching out for hazards.  Often they slept in the cabin up on top of the deckhouse, which contained a sort of hammock, but sometimes they just laid down on the deck.  Roger taught them to recognize the land (mainly by the reeds and woodier plants), and she taught them how to operate the “wheel”, which worked more like a tiller, and also a bit like a motorcycle handlebar in that you twisted it to give it more gas (or whatever fuel the ship actually ran on).  The waterway they were travelling was wide, but it was definitely more river than lake, although there didn’t appear to be much in the way of visible current.  The curious Tiggery sound of the burrikits would ring out suddenly, and there were monkey noises when they were close to the land and frog calls when they weren’t.  Johnny wondered if the “monkeys” were actually creatures like Bones, but he never actually saw any.  The only fish they saw were the red and yellow striped ones—so large that they easily outweighed Larissa—which often leapt out of the water and flashed black tailfins at them.  Roger called them “tillocks” and said they were good to eat.

What they mostly ate, though, was a sort of jerky studded with bits of fruit, which Roger called pemmican.  Larissa looked dubious at this, but didn’t comment.  The taste of it was gamey, but not unpleasant.  This was supplemented with hunks of a sharp, greenish-yellow cheese, and dried fruits that mostly tasted like figs.  To drink they had water, which was brown but still tasted fresh and clean, and a type of very smooth, almost fruity liquor that Roger called “artan” (this was pronounced with a vaguely French accent).  Larissa sniffed it and pronounced that it was made from rose water and fermented plums, but she didn’t drink it.  Johnny found it pleasant to have a small glass after meals, but found that more than that made him a bit tipsy.  Roger kept a constant supply in a leather skin tied to her waist; she seemed immune to its intoxicating properties.

To alleviate boredom, Roger attempted to teach Johnny various things.  She showed him the basics of fencing, but he had little talent for it.  He was better at picking up the fundamentals of operating the ship, but of course there wasn’t that much to know: there were no sails to trim, he quickly learned all the knots, and operating the pole that steered the vessel wasn’t very difficult.  He tried to understand how she could navigate when there were no stars (or even any visible sun), but she couldn’t explain that herself—said it was something you felt in your bones.  The only thing Johnny felt (although it was more in his skin than his bones) was the strange black door they had come through, which he knew he could locate no matter how far away they travelled from it.  He almost thought he could sense something else occasionally, something up ahead in the direction they were pointed, but it was fleeting, and impossible to describe.  After a while Roger fell back on telling stories, mostly outlandish, many involving her father, who was apparently a notorious pirate.  Her mother she never mentioned.

Larissa never participated in these interludes.  She just watched in silence.

Johnny couldn’t sort out how he felt about the older woman.  At times he was very attracted to her, but it was also very easy to forget that Roger was female: she was something beyond what Johnny thought of as a tomboy.  She didn’t walk like any woman Johnny had ever known, and she certainly didn’t talk like any woman he’d ever known, and she didn’t even look like any woman he’d ever known.  He mostly viewed her as the captain, sometimes as a teacher, occasionally as an older brother.  But there was something about the way her eyes sparkled, and her easy smile, and most especially her laugh, that touched his core and stirred a manhood he’d barely noticed before.

At some point, which could have been the same day or a week later for all Johnny could tell, Roger stopped in middle of one of her tales and stood up, staring into the distance, the wheel forgotten and the fan idling.  She had her hands on her hips, very similar to how she’d stood when he’d first met her, and her head cocked slightly to one side.  Her lips were parted slightly, her cheeks flushed, her back barely arched, and her eyes were unfocussed.  They were light brown, Johnny noted for the first time, with the barest hint of yellow and green.

“Ah,” she sighed softly, her gaze returning to him and becoming sharper again.  “Methinks we’re here, finally.”

Johnny looked up at her curiously from his seat on one of the tied-down crates on the deck.  “Here where?” he asked.  Nothing looked any different to him than it had for the past ... however long it had been.

“Here where we’re needing to be, a’course.”  She pointed over to where a few reedy cattails, spaced some distance apart, indicated a tributary of the main waterway.  That much Johnny had learned to recognize.  “Down that rill is the way to Aidan’s.  We’ll need to let him know we’re a’ coming.  Johnny me boyo, can ye drive us into that channel?  Gentle and steady on the planks, mind: she’s shallow and ye’ll not see more’n an inch between bilge and bed.  Ketch?”

Johnny nodded and translated to show he had “ketched.”  “Drive the ship into the offshoot, but go slow because there won’t be much clearance between the bottom of the boat and the riverbed.  Got it.”  He grabbed the wheel and twisted the pole to goose the engine a little.  “But you were exaggerating about it just being an inch, right?”

Roger grinned back.  “A wee bit, aye.”  She clapped him on the shoulder.  “Ye’ll do fine.  Ye’re quite the sailor now.”  She turned and faced the bow.  “Bones!” she yelled.  “Git yer feathered ass out here!”

The red and blue blur shot up out of the hold.  “Helm’s a-lee!” Bones screeched.

Roger chuckled.  “Aye, we be turning.  Slowly, though, so naught for ye to worry about.  Fetch me a light whilst I bring out the flare.  Step to, matey!”

“Aye-aye cap’n!” he replied, then streaked off.  Roger strode off behind him.

Johnny concentrated on keeping the nose of the ship, with its protruding figurehead, pointed down the center of the channel.  This was harder than it looked, because the deckhouse was in the way, so he couldn’t sight down the front of the ship.  Larissa climbed up to the flying bridge where she could get a better view and help watch out for the banks protruding into the waterway or stray hummocks of land poking out of the water.  Johnny had just gotten the stern through the narrow gap to where the rill opened up a bit when Roger reappeared, carrying what appeared to be a heavy crossbow.  She put it down on the deck and planted a boot on either side of its center beam, standing on the curved part of the bow.  She then reached down and grabbed the heavy cable and heaved it taut until it clicked three times.  Picking up the crossbow again, she loaded it with what looked like a bottle with a stick poking out of it.  Bones appeared on her shoulder as if by magic and crashed his flint and steel together.  The giant spark sprang to the end of the stick, which started spitting and crackling like a 4th of July sparkler.  “Fire in the hole!” Bones squealed, and Roger shot the great crossbow straight up into the air.

The bottle streaked up about a dozen yards, then it began to trail green fire and emit a piercing shriek.  Executing a graceful arc, it abruptly exploded in a shower of green and gold and red that formed a pattern in the sky.  Johnny thought it looked like a fleur-de-lis with an X across it.

He had slowed the ship’s speed to nearly nothing to avoid crashing into anything while he was distracted by the flare.  Roger watched the fiery pattern overhead gradually fade away, her hand shading her eyes, and then gave a satisfied nod.  “That’ll give him fair warning we’re on the way or I don’t know what will.  Shall I take the wheel, Master Johnny?”  Johnny stood up and left the pole to her more capable hands.

“Mind if I go up on the bridge and see what I can see?” he asked.

“Surely,” Roger replied, settling into the seat and gunning the engine again.  “Holler out when you spy the dock, won’t ye?”

“There’s a dock?” Johnny asked, surprised.

“Indeed, me lad.  Got to tie her up good and proper while we run down the Guide, ain’t we?”

Johnny decided to take this as a rhetorical question.  “Okay, sure, yell when I see the dock, got it.”

Roger scanned the banks on either side as Johnny climbed the ladder to the flying bridge, and the ship moved slowly but surely down the channel.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chapter 12 (begun)

The Journey Begins

When Johnny and Larissa emerged onto the deck sometime later, they got wet all over again.  This precipitation was something completely new to Johnny; it was as if someone had taken normal raindrops and shrunk them down, and just suspended them in the air.  It wasn’t exactly mist, and, if there were clouds, they weren’t obvious: the sky held the same abnormal sourceless light it always had.  The air was just full of tiny drops of water now.  “Less of a hig and more of a mizzle,” Roger announced brightly.  “All cleaned up then, eh?” Johnny and Larissa nodded.  “Excellent!” Roger replied.  “I’ll stow away the tub and we’ll be on our way.”

While Roger went below to dismantle the fiery columns that had created the bathing area, Johnny and Larissa stood and looked out over the water (or at least over the water plants).  All evidence of bird and insect life had disappeared, but the bright blue water snakes were in abundance, and the air was full of noises that sounded like frogs, although Johnny couldn’t actually see any.  When Roger reemerged, Johnny inquired about the snakes.

“What about ’em?” she asked.

“Are they dangerous?”

“Nah.  Some keep ’em as pets.  They can be quite affectionate, so I’ve heard.  If any climb aboard, just toss ’em back.  They don’t bite.”

“What about moccasins?”


“I thought swamps typically had water moccasins.” Roger continued to stare at him blankly.  “It’s a poisonous snake, lives in the water.” He looked over at Larissa for help.

“Agkistrodon piscivorus,” she supplied.

This was apparently unhelpful as far as Roger was concerned.

“Often called ‘cottonmouth’ due to the white lining of its mouth, which it exposes in its threat display,” the little girl added.

Roger nodded slowly.  “I ... see,” she said.  It was obvious that she didn’t.

Johnny jumped back in.  “Okay, so no moccasins.  What should we be worried about?”

Roger shrugged.  “Well, there be burrikits on the land, as I mentioned, and barracuda and serathodonts in the water.  And of course the muck monsters.  But it’s unlikely we’ll see any o’ those bastards.”

“Barracuda are saltwater fish,” Larissa pointed out.

Roger shook her head.  “No salt water here, me lassie.  In fact, the water’s quite potable, once you fish all the greenery out of it.  But if you fall into it, ye’ll find out quick enough about the barracuda.  So don’t fall in, eh?” Roger gave another big grin; Larissa just gazed back with wide eyes.

Johnny said, “So, what are these ... serathowhatsits?”

Roger took his shoulder and turned him so that the tall palm tree, only a shadow in the weird rain at this point, was at his back.  Any evidence of a far “shore” was now completely obscured, and it was just a vast expanse of the floating plants, blurry in the hanging raindrops.  “Look right there,” she said.

Johnny stared.  “I don’t see any...” He trailed off as he caught sight of a path being cut cleanly through the vegetation, just at the edge of the visibility the rain allowed.  There was obviously something swimming just underneath the surface.  From the size of the wake it left, it must be big.  The course it followed coiled back and forth sinuously, snakelike, but this was way too big to be a snake.  Suddenly a huge yellow fish with red stripes lept out of the water; in the instant it splashed back down, the snout of something like a dark blue crocodile shot up and snapped closed.  A stocky, scaly body was visible for a moment, followed by a thrashing tail.  In an instant it was all over and only a lazily spinning water lilly marked the passage of the great beast.  Johnny noticed that he had stopped breathing for a second.  He drew a shaky breath.

“Was that a ... what was that?”

“Serathodont.  That’s what ye were asking about, weren’t ye?”

“Yeah.” Johnny reached out and grabbed hold of the ship’s railing.  “Yep, that’s what I ... okay, just forget I asked.  For future reference, it’s probably better that I don’t know these things.”

Roger shrugged.  “Nothing to get fussed about.  They’re mean, but they’ll mostly stay out of our way.  Stay out of the water, and they’ll stay off the land.  Well, for the most part.  If the fishing gets too poor they do come out looking for easier meat, but that’s mighty rare.  Although I have seen ’em run down muskies afore ...”

Johnny’s brain was reeling.  “So they can ... run?”

Roger grinned again, and slapped him on the back.  “Mighty rare, me bucko!  Don’t be fretful.  Now, let’s get moving, eh?”

Johnny looked back toward the palm tree, but it was entirely out of sight now.  “I think we already are, aren’t we?”

Roger pshawed him.  “Jest driftin’ a bit.  I’ll go take the wheel and we’ll get to traversing good and proper.”

Johnny nodded.  “And, then we’ll go get this Aidan fellow?”

“Yes.  The Guide.”

“Right.  And then we’ll ... what?”

Roger’s smile was pervasive.  “And then we’ll get to finding it.”

“Oh, right.  Find ‘it.’ And what exactly was ‘it’ again?”

“Why, the Diamond Flame, a course.  Ain’t that why you come here?”

Johnny pondered the name.  It had an exotic ring to it, like a novel in an adventure series, or an action movie.  It sent shivers up his spine for no discernible reason.  Was that why he was here?  Was there any rhyme or reason to his being here at all?

“Honestly, Roger, I have no idea.  But if you say so, I’ll buy it.  I’d buy anything right about now.  I’m so far from where I was the last time I truly knew where I was that I’m just running on adrenaline and hope at this point.”

Roger looked at him with curiosity, her smile suspended for a moment.  “Not knowing where ye are is no big thing, me da’ always said.  Time and tide will carry ye to places ye’d never imagine.  Not knowing where ye’re going, on the other hand, now that is a problem.” Her touch on his shoulder was gentler this time.  “Ye’ve always got to know where ye’re going, else how’ll ye know when ye get there?”

And with those words, Roger moved aft to start up the great fan again and get them underway

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chapter 11 (concluded)

Johnny glanced over at the “tub.”  “This is ... somewhat unusual for us,” he said, trying not to look over at the increasingly naked Roger.  “We typically don’t ... um, bathe in front of other people.  Where we, ah, come from, I mean.”

Roger stepped in front of him.  She wasn’t any taller than he was, but she was obviously older.  Her breasts weren’t large, but they seemed to fill Johnny’s vision.  He tried looking down, but that brought him to the dark patch of hair between her legs, so he turned his head and looked at the wall instead.  “Suit yerselves,” Roger was saying.  “I’ll wash up meself and then go find ye some fresh clothes.  I reckon ye can fit into me own garb well enough ...”  Johnny felt her grab him by the shoulders.  “A bit broader across the blades than I, mayhap, but close enough.  Ye, little lassie, on the other hand, ...”  Johnny felt her let go of him, then out of the corner of his eye he saw her put her hand on top of Larissa’s head.  Larissa continued to gaze up at the older woman.  “Ye’ll be a bit of a challenge.  But methinks I can scrounge up summat.”

A brief pause and then a splash, and Johnny finally dared look back around.  Roger’s head popped up above the surface of the water, and she shook it, flinging her ponytail around and spraying water everywhere.  Bones scolded her with a screech, but she paid him no mind.  The tea-colored water did a good enough job of hiding her nudity that Johnny felt he could look at her now.  She chatted on while she washed, using the hunk of soap to create a surprising amount of lather, which she used on both body and hair, although she didn’t undo her ponytail.  By the time she was done washing, there was very little of the soap left, and Roger dropped it in the water.  Johnny noticed that it quickly sank down and out of sight.  Point one, he thought to himself: don’t drop the soap until you’re finished.

Most of Roger’s chatter was instructions on what to do (and what not to do) while on board the ship.  She was quite excellent at this, and Johnny found himself wanting to do as she said, never doubting that she was in charge, but never feeling like her inferior.  She had an easy air of command that was in no way diminished by being in the midst of taking a bath; no doubt she was born to be a ship’s captain.  Suddenly something she was saying caught his ear.  “Wait, what was that last bit?”

Roger had finished her washing by now and she began to lazily backstroke across the short length of the “tub.”  (Johnny had to avert his eyes again.)  “The Guide,” she repeated.  “We’ll be off to pick up the Guide now.”

“Who’s the Guide?”

“Aidan de Tourneville.”

Johnny shook his head as if to clear it.  “No, I meant ... what is he, or why do we need him, or ... something.”

Roger chuckled again.  She had a very sexy chuckle; it was throaty, like her laugh, but even more seductive, somehow.  “For where we’ll be heading, we’ll be needing a Water Guide.”  Johnny could see the capital letters in “Water Guide” from the way she said it.  “Aidan may not be the best of the best, but he’s the best of the ones we can get to right now, and he’ll see us through.  And as to why we be needing him,” and here there was another splash, and her face appeared in his field of vision, staring up at him from the edge of the tub as he was trying to stare at the floor, “that’ll be on account of the monsters.”  She heaved her body out of the water in one well-muscled push, and Johnny blushed and looked away yet again.

“Monsters?” he said, his voice cracking a bit.

“Now, now, nothing to worry yer pretty little head over.  That’s what we’ll be having the Guide for, s’truth.”  There were dripping footsteps, and then a click, and then a loud whoosh.  It surprised Johnny so much that he forgot to look at the floor.  Through the cloud of steam, he could barely make out Roger’s back; she was standing over where one of the fireglobe stands had been, holding her arms out to either side and using her foot to press a button on the floor.  The steam seemed to be coming off her, somehow, and, sure enough, when it cleared, she seemed totally dry.  She stepped over to the wooden box with its little round pot on top.  Removing the lid, she scooped out a handful of some goopy substance and began to rub it on her body.

Johnny knew he was probably supposed to be looking away again, but this was too fascinating.  “What is that stuff?” he asked.

“It’s allsalve.  Ye’ll need to be putting it all over.  Concentrate on the exposed skin, and don’t get it too near your eyes or your nethers, but get it on most of ye.”

Both Johnny and Larissa had come over to examine the stuff.  It was white, and roughly the consistency of cocoa butter.  There was a very distinctive, but not unpleasant, smell coming from it.  Larissa stuck a finger in it and brought it to her nose.  “Aloe vera base,” she pronounced.  “Infused with zinc oxide and ... nepetalactone?”  She gazed back up at Roger.

“Well, I don’t know what ye’re on about there, missy, but this stuff will keep you from burning in the sun, and it keeps the mosquitoes off ye, which is the main thing.  As an added benefit, it keeps yer skin from drying out, and it can occasionally make the burrikits go loopy, rather than eating ye.”

“What’s a burrikit?” Johnny asked.

“Large orange cat,” Roger replied.  “They waits up in the trees for ye to come along, and then they drop on ye.”

“Nepetalactone is the active ingredient in catnip,” Larissa told him.

“Ah,” Johnny said.  “Wouldn’t that attract the ... um, burrikits?”

“Occasionally, ye’re right as rain, but not as often as it keeps ye from being drained bloodless by the mosquitoes.  And the mosquitoes can get to you here on the ship, ye see, whereas the burrikits cannot.  For the most part.”  Roger applied some of the cream to her cheeks, chin, and forehead, and then wiped her hands on her hips.  “There!  That should do ‘er.  Shall I go fetch ye some clothes then?”  Without waiting for an answer, she turned and strode off.  Johnny caught himself watching her walk away and immediately turned back to Larissa, who wasn’t bothering to avert her eyes.  Her gaze lingered on the door for some time after Roger had disappeared through it.  Finally she turned to meet Johnny’s eyes.

“So ...” Johnny said.  “You want to go first?”  Larissa didn’t answer.  “I mean,” he stammered, “I mean, I’ll go wait outside and ...”  Larissa’s gaze didn’t falter, and her blank expression didn’t change.  Johnny thought he was probably blushing.  Again.

“How about I just go first then?  Can you guard the door for me and make sure she doesn’t come barging in?”  Larissa nodded.  Johnny exhaled, relieved.  “Okay, cool, then I’ll do the same for you afterwards, right?  I’ll just poke my arm out for the new clothes when I’m done, I guess.”  Johnny looked around and saw that Bones was still in the room, perched up on a shelf across the room.  “And take that thing out with you, if you can,” he said, gesturing.

Bones opened its beak and stuck out a small pink tongue at Johnny.  Then it gave a short monkey cry and scampered out of the room.