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chapter eight Madame Flattery dresses for the party

Right after the loss of one of the submarine crews, things began to get very busy in the Usesi monastery. Partly at her mother’s instigation, party because of the Sisters of Kril.

One thing Tishian had come to terms with early on in her stay was that they Sisters of Kril were not human. Okay, so mother would insist there was nothing truly human left on this planet, but that was a different story. The Sisters of Kril might have looked like attractive, young women descended from some of the indigenous peoples in the region, but looks were deceiving. They were no more human than the Tubengu. In some ways perhaps, less so.

There had been a phase in mother’s life when she wanted to save everything, so she created the Sisters of Kril to help her. Her submarine fleet came much later when she realized that just maybe it was better to forget the past and leave it safely buried. Or so she claimed. Tishian took all her mother’s claims with a grain of salt. If she took them seriously, well… better not to.

The one thing she was sure of was the Sisters of Kril were a self-sustaining race, where every child was born female, nearly identical until you learned to spot the subtle differences. For the Sisters of Kril, with the summer solstice came the Festival of the Menopause, where those who had been chosen for the privilege would cease to be women. They would be sequestered for six months and cared for during a not entirely pleasant transformation.

On the winter solstice the select would be leave their isolation, now male in gender, though not looking all that different. Then there would be weeks of sex until it was certain that each had impregnated at least a dozen of their sisters. Then each would be allowed to die in a great ceremony acknowledging the honor they have done in sacrificing themselves to keep the order alive. Mother did insist they had the ability to change back, but doing so had become taboo for some reason she never adequately explained.

In spite of many courteous offers, Tishian had declined participating in the winter festivities, though providing assistance to those sequestered had been enlightening.

Her mother waltzed into Tishian’s rooms the day of the summer solstice dressed more elegantly than she had since the days in Farport. Also more tastefully than those days. Tishian eyed her mother carefully and sensed the silk and brocade hid more secrets than just her mother. “Come, come child, or we’ll be late.”

“The ceremony doesn’t start for hours yet, mother.”

“Yes, well, I’m afraid we’re going to have to miss it this year. We have a party that we absolutely must attend.” Madame Flattery quickly sized up Tishian’s comfortable work clothes. “I’d recommend wearing something more alluring than that, either that or something good for brawling. Or both. Both would work. Either way, think fancy.”

Tishian looked quizzically at her mother, realizing she was armed and ready for battle in more ways than one. “And what party would this be?”

“The pirates are having a soirée of sorts. Something about a message from the grave from the now deceased Pirate King, and, of course, an excuse to party, pirates being pirates, and, well, it is the soltice after all.” Madame Flattery let slip a gleeful titter.


“No, silly child, in Perala. Where else?”

“And when is this party?”

“Right now. I’m afraid we’re going to have to settle for being fashionably late.” Her mother gave her a smug wink. Tishian was pretty sure she had been trying for coy but was a little too enthused to manage it.

“Mother, by fashionably late do you mean well after the fact? On a fast airship Perala is nearly a week’s travel.”

“Shush. Who said anything about an airship. Well, I suppose it is an airship of sorts, but not really. An ariship would be too obvious. Now get dressed. We leave within the hour. There’s someone there that owes me some money.”

Madame Flattery waltzed out of the room humming a cheerful tune.

Tishian ended up settling for clean and utilitarian, with just a touch of flair and a well disguised arsenal of toys.

When a Sister of Kril arrived a short while later, Tishian was ready to go. She was led down passages she hadn’t traveled before that ran deep below the monastery. Eventually she was shown to a comfortable seat on a small, opulent elevator which took her even deeper underground. When it stopped moving, Madame Flattery was there waiting for her.

“That is what you’re wearing, child? This is a party!” Madame Flattery sighed in a sincere attempt at disappointment.

“And unlike you, who will stick out like a sore thumb, I will blend in like another pirate having managed to dredge up something decent to wear.”

Her mother gave her a dirty look. “Never mind then, off we go.”

Madame Flattery took off at a brisk pace down the hall. Tishian followed. It was all metal, old lighting panels, old everything, much older than her.

“Mother, this looks like a base.”

“It is indeed. Perhaps the oldest one still alive.”

“It isn’t on any of the maps that I know of.”

“Of course child, even I have my secrets.”

With that a door slid out of their way and Tishian found herself beside her mother on a catwalk far above an underground drydock. Before her was a motley collection of ships of decidedly ancient vintage. Most looked to be in surprisingly excellent repair.

“Mother, how old are these?”

“Almost as old as I am. So what is that? Thirty-nine? Okay, let’s be honest. Fifty-two.”

“How many zeros after that?”

“Shush you.”

The ships were all clearly ancient, most dating from before blackmetal, and from before many other things she was used to seeing on ships. The angles and curves were lacking in a certain refinement, even if they had their own beauty. They sat there, floating in the space, on their own or with support frames, in tarnished bronze and gold tones, with far too much glass and decoration. They were clearly playthings for the rich of some forgotten time. So far as she could tell, the entire front end of one was a delicately wrought crystal ballroom. Not a good ship for battle.

Tishian looked down to the floor far below. There was a complete machine shop down there, all of the equipment surrounding- A look of surprise crossed her face. “Is that a power cell generator?”

“Biggest one ever made.”

“It’s underground. What powers it?”

“The volcano. This way child.”

Madame Flattery headed off down the catwalk towards a platform tucked into a corner along the wall. On it sat a craft Tishian had never seen the likes of before. It was small, it might seat six, if they liked intimacy. It was nothing but a glass sphere with three fins wrapped around it and the power cell. The spike on the front made it look not unlike a pregnant throwing dart.

“Our elegant coach to take us to the ball!” Madame Flattery gestured grandly. Then she flustered with a show of meekness. “Sorry, I don’t have six white horses. I lent them out along with the glass slippers.” She made a sour face when Tishian just looked at her funny. “Remind me to tell you that story sometime.”

Madame Flattery touched the metal band wrapped around the side of the sphere and the craft came quietly to life.

“It’s not mine, mind you, but I don’t think Belle will mind us making use of it. After all, she did leave it here in my collection, and it is much easier than trying to drag one of the others out.”

As she talked, the glass slid back and steps folded out of one of the fins.

“Excuse the lack of decorum. It wasn’t really meant for fancy dress events. Although it does work in a vacuum, which can be useful for surviving vexatious bores and other air sucking pests.” She climbed into the cabin. Tishian followed her.

The cabin was half-filled with a couch wrapped around one side of the sphere, with, Tishian noticed, three very solid looking safety harnesses. Across from it was a complicated saddle sitting astride a thick bar littered with handles and controls. It looked like an abstract mechanical horse. Madame Flattery awkwardly strapped herself into the saddle and the nav. As she had said, it definitely wasn’t meant for elegant party wear.

“Buckle up!” Madame Flattery said as the sphere closed back up. Tishian had to duck to avoid getting hit by it. She settled into the couch and pulled on a safety harness. If mother was driving, she wanted all the safety she could get.

With energy arcing haphazardly about it, the little craft floated upward with a crackle and a hum. Tishian hoped it was supposed to do that. Madame Flattery nosed the craft out slowly to face the far wall. Tishian noted that the ship responded to every part of her that moved, like her mother had become one with the ship.

“Where did you hide the hangar door,” Tishian asked, not seeing a clearly marked exit anywhere.

“There isn’t one. That’s why nobody knows about this place. Let’s see if the engines still work.”

Before Tishian could fit in another word, the craft leapt forward, flaying straight at the far wall suddenly only a few seconds away. “Wrong button,” Madame Flattery said with an apologetic titter. Just before they hit there was a swirl of mind-bending light and shadow and a sharp jolt that left Tishian prickly with static and they were flying in daylight over the water, the sun at their back.

“Mother! What was that?”

“Jump drive. This little treasure is small enough that the watchers won’t see it. If I attempted that with one of the big airships I’m afraid it would light up on their systems like a New Year’s show.”

Not knowing what a jump drive was, Tishian assumed the name explained itself. “So we just jumped out of the dry dock to the water above?”

Madame Flattery turned to smile at her, momentarily causing the ship to try to match her move before she caught it. “I suppose jump isn’t really the right word. It is more sort of a folding of the Between, a stepping into the Away without really intending to get there. But fold drive just sounded silly at the time, so jump drive it was. There are books in the monastery on the mechanics involved. Anyway, though the base may be directly under the monastery, we are currently fifteen kilomi west of Perala. We’ll be arriving in a few minutes. Just enough time to shake off any disorientation.”