When dawn broke the next morning, everyone was scattered about the airship asleep. Que and Smoke had taken up quarters in the bunks below deck, Que showing a remarkable ability to sleep soundly through just about anything (particularly the sounds of Brogan working through the night). Liam was back on the main deck in his chair, snoring away like some alarm that kept any intruders away.
Brogan had fallen asleep by the smokestack after having melded the last pieces of it only a handful of hours earlier. She was clearly exhausted enough to not be bothered by Liam's snoring even though she was asleep only a few feet away from him.
BOB and DeeDee were still both on stand by their robot version of asleep.
Surprisingly, Que was the first one awake that morning. With a small squeak of a yawn, she climbed out of her bunk and walked over to Smoke's, shaking his shoulder lightly.
"Come on," she said softly. "We need to wake the others so we can get on our way to Sylvora."
Smoke, hat in face, hair sticking out of his ponytail in odd angles, suspenders dangling, shirt and pants wrinkled and partially undone, and feet covered with holey socks crossed at the ankles, gave a quiet moan and somehow managed to sink lower into his cot. He muttered something unintelligible.
Que wrinkled her nose and shook his shoulder again.
"Come on, Smoke. Wake up!"
He rolled over and turned toward her. His hat fluttered down to the floor and one of his legs shifted so it was half off the cot. His eyes were still closed. His dark brown lashes were still dark against his tanned cheeks. It was the first clear look at his face Que had gotten.
"Five more minutes," he murmured. The words were barely understandable under his breath.
Que paused for a moment to regard his features. He had a very nice face, clean shaven, with nice angles in his cheeks. She instantly wondered why he hid it all the time, but Smoke's refusal to wake made her a little agitated. Wrinkling her nose again, she pushed with all her strength and shoved him out of bed.
Smoke slammed onto the ground with a loud BAM. He lay there, partially sprawled. His face was both still half asleep and screwed up in pain. He lay there for a long moment.
"Ow," he said finally. He lifted a hand and rubbed his face and then his eyes. He lifted his head slightly, eyes narrowed at her.
"Do you make it a habit to rudely shove people out of their beds when they're asleep?"
His voice was really low and gravelly.
Trying not to giggle, she shook her head.
"No, you just wouldn't get up the first two times when I tried to wake you nicely."
Que tilted her head to one side. She could see his face much better now.
"You have really pretty eyes and nice facial features. You shouldn't hide them all the time with your hat."
An eyebrow arched. He had that amused look again on this face without the smile.
"Not everyone gets up at the crack of dawn, Que."
He sat up and grabbed his hat from under him. He'd landed right on it. He put it back on his head and looked up at her from beneath the visor.
"It isn't that early!" Que protested, going towards the steps that led to the upper deck. "Brogan would still be awake if it was, and I don't hear her working anymore."
"Which means she just got to sleep and we should let her sleep."
Smoke got up, brushed off his clothes (not that it improved it any), buttoned up his pants, then his shirt. He pulled up the suspenders and cracked his neck. He walked past her as he pulled free his hair and began to pull it back into place.
"I'll make you breakfast," he grumbled as he past her and then yawned. Loudly.
"I wasn't planning on waking her," Que contested, following him the rest of the way up the stairs. "But I don't think she'd want me to go anywhere on my own, and I don't know what I would cook for breakfast, so I'd have to go somewhere, and I don't know our pilot well enough to ask him, and I don't know how to turn BOB or DeeDee on, and..."
Smoke stopped. He turned around and put a hand to her mouth. He jerked his head to the side to indicate the two still sleeping.
He dropped his hand and then stuffed both into his pockets. He walked to the ramp and headed down and yawned again.
Que chewed on her lip, quietly following after him. She was already starting to get hungry, and didn't want Smoke to get too far ahead of her. Picking up her pace, she eventually made it back to his side.
Once they were further off the airship, she asked, "What's for breakfast?"
Smoke tilted his head to the side. He took a deep breath through his nose and then made a right.
"What kind of bread?" Que asked, keeping pace with him. It looked like it was another game of getting information from Smoke.
He inhaled again.
"Every kind. Freshly baked."
"Will it be warm then?" Que continued, then decided to change the subject. "I still don't understand why your answers are so short. I wouldn't ask so many questions if you just gave a full answer."
"Yes," he said in answer to her first question. He shrugged in response to the latter statement.
"Questions aren't bad."
"Neither are answers," Que retorted. "Besides, if questions aren't bad, than how come you hardly ever ask them?"
"I asked about you shoving me off the bed," he said. He looked at her and arched an eyebrow.
"Only because it directly affected you. Don't you ever ask about something just to know? Like, 'how does this work?' or 'where can I find this?' even if you think you already know the answer?"
Que walked in front of him, staring at him intently.
"When I don't know, I ask. If I know, I don't."
His gaze met hers.
"Why not?" Que continued. "You could have a whole conversation of asking and answering questions, but if you just end with an answer, it dies. Why not just keep asking?"
"We're conversing," he said and arched an eyebrow. Que sighed, shaking her head.
"No we aren't. If I didn't keep asking you questions, you wouldn't say anything at all. Why won't you just talk to me? You know, tell me a little about yourself. All I know is your name and that you sell papers."
"I don't talk about myself," he said and started walking again.
Que frowned and followed after him.
"But why?" she asked. "What could it hurt?"
"It could hurt me. And those I'm with," he said. Smoke's voice had gotten softer.
Que was quiet for a moment while she thought about what his statement could mean. Curious, she couldn't stop herself from asking the first thing that had come to mind:
"Are you queer?"
Smoke stopped. His mouth twitched. The ends curled up a little. It twitched again.
He burst out laughing.
Deep, full and loud, Smoke laughed. He laughed until he had to hold his sides and he was bent a little forward. He laughed until tears gathered in the corners of his eyes and he had trouble breathing. He was still laughing as he straightened, grabbed Que and tugged her toward him.
His laughter stopped when kissed her. His lips caressed hers as if tasting her. His lips asked a question and gave an answer, molding to hers and stroking them.
Then he pulled away and released her. He smirked. Then he straightened his hat and his expression was deadpan again.
"No," he said and started walking again.
Que froze in place, wide-eyed and confused. That certainly wasn't the response she had expected from him. A simple "yes" or "no", maybe... but that? Que's mind could barely comprehend what Smoke had just done, let alone what she felt when he did it. Her cheeks and ears were bright red, and she didn't know why. Why did his actions embarrass her?
And was that what a kiss was?
Having been isolated all of her life, it took a moment for Que to register that that was what Smoke had done: he had kissed her. Just thinking about it made her cheeks flush with heat and turn a deeper shade of red. He'd kissed her; Smoke, of all people, who she barely even knew, just kissed her. Que was at a complete loss for words.
Smoke stopped about fifty feet away. He must have noticed that she wasn't following him. He turned around.
"You coming?" he asked in a voice just loud enough to be heard.
It was the jolt she needed to snap her back to reality, and after a small nod, Que jogged to catch up with him. She almost asked him why he had done that, why he had kissed her, but for some strange reason, the young woman just couldn't ask. Thinking about it made her cheeks flush again, and despite how curious she was about it, she was too embarrassed to say anything.
Que remained silent all they way into the market, when her attention was caught by the variety of wares for sale. She immediately began asking Smoke questions about every little knickknack they walked by, from strange fruits to alchemical powders.
He answered everything in his typical simple answers. Just the information she asked for. No more. No less. He led them straight to the bakery without pause despite her looking around and stopping constantly. At the bakery, they only waited a few minutes. He ordered several loaves of different breads and some muffins. He handed Que the bag as he paid for them.
Once they had left the market, Que got quiet again. Without all of the hustle and bustle to distract her, she'd begun to think about that kiss, and her cheeks began to blush.
"Smoke?" she asked after a moment. "Why did you kiss me?"
She squeezed the bag of bread gently, as if drawing some comfort from it.
Smoke paused. He touched her shoulder gently as if he anticipated that she would jump away.
"That's a loaded question. There are a lot of answers."
Que chewed on her lip and dug her heel in the ground a little.
"I'm listening," she said softly. "I just wanted to know... 'cause... well... I've never been kissed before... and..."
Her cheeks turned even redder.
"And I want to know what that means..."
He shook his head.
"I can't tell you what it means, Que. It can mean different things to different people," he said, his voice soft. He took a step toward and leaned down so his face was close to hers.
"I kissed you because it answered your question. I kissed you because I wanted to. I kissed you because you made me laugh. I... don't laugh. It's not one of those things. It's all of them at the same time. I had to kiss you. I wanted to kiss you."
"And I'll probably do it again one day."
Que felt her heart jump up into her throat. Just suggestion that Smoke might kiss her again brought on all of the embarrassment and confusion the initial kiss had. It made her dizzy. She didn't even wonder about how much he had just said, only that he said he might do it again. This made her even more curious...
A smile slowly spread over his lips. In a way it was far more enigmatic and mysterious than when he was expressionless.
"Whenever I want."
That strange smile of his made her smile and even laugh a little.
"And when will the next time be then?" Que asked, though it was clear she didn't really expect a clear answer. Her cheeks were still flushed, and her heart still fluttering, but for some reason, the promise of another kiss made her feel more at ease.
Maybe even something more.
His smile lingered as he shrugged.
Then he turned away, and the smile faded. As they started walking, he asked, "Will it be accepted?"
There was a small bounce in Que's step as she walked by his side.
"That depends," she told him with a giggle. "Are you going to startle me again?"
"Probably. I'm not very predictable."
Smoke took her arm gently and began to lead her down a different direction.
Que was about to laugh again when she noticed the abrupt change in their route.
"Um, Smoke? Didn't we go the other way last time?" she asked, a little nervous. "I don't think this is the way we came before..."
Smoke didn't say anything at first, though he appeared tense. Finally, he spoke, albeit a little reluctantly.
"There's someone following us."
His tone said the rest. Not in a good way.
Que paled and didn't question him. She trusted Smoke knew what he was doing, but learning they were being followed made her worry.
Someone jumped down from an awning and landed a few feet in front of them: a young man who couldn't have been much older than Smoke (but certainly no where near as clean). He wiped his nose on one of his grimy sleeves while he twirled a knife in the other hand, giving them a decayed, toothy grin all the while.
"Well, lookit we got 'ere, eh?" he said, just barely understandable.
Smoke moved just enough to keep this one in his sights and still see the one that had followed them. He kept a grip on Que, gentle but firm, and had her partially behind him.
The one that had been following them took out his knife.
"I thinks they got some coin ta spare."
He smiled and his was no better than the first.
"We don't," Smoke said. "All our money went into bread. If you're hungry, we'll be glad to spare some."
"Oh, we'll take a slice or two..."
A third man, this one appearing from a nearby dead end, walked out, busy cleaning his grubby nails with his weapon. He spoke better than the others, but not by much. He looked at Smoke with a smirk before glancing over at Que.
"Maybe even grab a little dessert."
Que moved closer to Smoke, not liking at all the look the man was giving her.
Smoke's eyes narrowed.
His voice had a hard edge to it.
There was a sudden tension and stiffness to his body.
"You hear that fellas?" the third man asked, looking towards his compatriots. "Now he wants us to leave..."
"Not wit'out our takin'!" the first one laughed. "I'd like summa that pie..."
He inched a little closer.
Smoke's leg moved in a flash. His heel connected with the jaw of the first one and sent him flying ten feet away. There was a gut-wrenching crack when his shoe connected with the man's jaw. Blood spurted into the air as the first thief fell back and crashed onto the ground.
"No pie," Smoke said, his voice like ice. His body was still protectively around Que.
The second man had been stunned by the sudden and brutal attack for a moment. But when Smoke spoke his face screwed up with rage. He hissed a "fuck you" and threw his knife at Smoke's face.
Smoke caught it, mere inches from his face, and threw it back.
The thief dodged to avoid the knife, surprised but too pissed to remark on it. He pulled out another knife from his boot and charged at Smoke and Que.
With a deft slide, Smoke moved out of the man's way, Que still protected behind him and kicked him in the back of the knee was he passed, sending him to the ground. Smoke's face was shadowed by his hat, and he faced the third rogue.
"Leave," he said again.
The man raised an eyebrow, seemingly hesitant after Smoke's earlier display. That's when the second man stood up again, extra knife still in hand as he grabbed Que from behind and yanked her away from Smoke. She barely managed a scream as the rogue held the knife blade close to her face.
"Shhh... woulden' wanna cut a slice yet..."
Smoke moved even faster than he had with the first man. In an instant, his hand had the second man's wrist and twisted it in an unnatural angle. The man yelled and dropped the knife and released Que. Smoke's knee came up like lightning into the man's gut between his ribs. Smoke released him as he dropped like a stone onto the ground unconscious.
His narrowed eyes were sharp steel as they shifted over to the third man.
He just dropped his knife and took off in the opposite direction.
Que, on the other hand, dropped to her knees, shaking horribly with fright. Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried to come to terms with what had just happened.
"S...Smoke?" she asked, terribly shaken. "What... why did they do that?"
She was so confused, she didn't even know what to ask.
Smoke crouched down beside her. He picked up the bag of bread and muffins and put his arms through the loops. Then, without a word, he lifted her into his arms. He carried her down the street and back toward the airship. He didn't say anything for a minute.
"People do bad things sometimes," he said softly.
Tears still streamed down Que's cheeks. She wrapped her arms around his neck, terrified someone might try to pull her away again.
"But... but why? We didn't do anything to them. We didn't have anything to give them..."
"I don't know the answer, Que," he said, his face close to hers. "Sometimes the world doesn't make sense. No matter how much you want it to."
Que sobbed gently the rest of the way back. Smoke's words were far from comforting, but being held so close in his arms... that much made her feel safe. By the time the airship was in sight again, she had stopped crying, although she was still quite confused and shaken by the attack.
Liam spotted their approach first, leaning over the railing and rubbing his eyes, not entirely sure of what he saw.
"The fuck? Smoke, what the hell are you doing? Where'd you two disappear to?"
"Carrying her," Smoke said simply as he walked up the ramp. "We went to get breakfast. Some men tried to mug us on the way back. She's a little shaken."
Brogan, who had only woken up just now thanks to Liam's shout, lifted her head, her expression still half asleep. Her hair was a mess.
She saw Que in Smoke's arms and rubbed her eyes. She must still be dreaming.
"Some wicked men tried to take our bread," Que explained to Brogan, sniffling a little. "They talked strange and were very frightening. I didn't like how they looked at me."
She leaned against Smoke as he carried her onto the deck.
"Smoke scared them away."
Brogan got up as Smoke gently put Que down on her feet. He handed the bag of food to Liam. Brogan put her hand tenderly on Que's face and gave the girl a hug. She looked at Smoke and mouthed a thank you. Smoke nodded.
When Brogan released Que she looked at the girl and touched her face again.
"You going to be okay?"
The younger woman nodded, wrapping her arms around herself.
"They said some really strange things to us. I didn't really understand what they meant, but Smoke did. Um..."
Que trailed off, glancing back towards the men.
"I don't think he would tell me what they meant if I asked him. He couldn't even tell me why they attacked. I just don't understand..."
She lowered her head, unable to keep herself from crying a little more.
Liam looked through the bag of bread, still a little baffled by Smoke's explanation.
"They tried to steal bread," he grumbled, looking up at Smoke. "They were after more than that though, weren't they? I take it they weren't too much trouble for you."
Smoke shook his head.
"They probably also wanted our money."
He glanced over at Que as Brogan wrapped the crying girl back in her arms. BOB and DeeDee were now awake and had gone to offer their presence as comfort to the girl. He looked back at Liam his eyes hard. The look on his face said what else they had wanted.
Brogan gave Que a squeeze.
"Sometimes there isn't an explanation for something, Que. I'm sure Smoke would've told you if he knew."
Que sniffled and nodded. She closed her eyes, leaning into Brogan.
"Is it alright if I lay down for a moment?" she asked. "I... I'm not so hungry right now..."
When Smoke had given Liam that stare, he frowned.
"Good damn thing you were around, then," he grumbled and then, quite softly. "Too innocent to know, huh?"
Brogan nodded and, holding Que's hand, walked down with her back to the bunks below deck.
Smoke watched them leave and then turned back to Liam.
"Yes. Too innocent. But she should be all right."
"God, I hope so," Liam said, whistling a little at the end. "I hope things go alright for her in Sylvora."
He looked down at the bread again.
"We should eat some of this before we proceed for the day. Brogan's got most everything fixed up, so all that's left is making sure we have the supplies we'll need for the trip."
Smoke nodded. He reached into the back and grabbed a still warm loaf. He headed down to the bunks as Brogan was on her way up. She watched Smoke pass her with an eyebrow arched. Then she smiled and shook her head and headed back up to the deck.
Que was lying in a cot when Smoke got there. He tore the bread in half, grabbed a chair and put it beside her cot. He didn't say anything. He just sat there, quietly eating one of the halves.
When Brogan was beside Liam again, she pulled free her hair from the ponytail and then tied it right back up.
"What did they get? I'm starved."
"You have your choice of a wide variety of breads," Liam offered, opening up the bag. "I call dibs on some of that cheese loaf. Love those things... got cheddar all swirled inside... Mmmm!"
Brogan chuckled and shook her head.
"That's all right. I'll take the garlic bread."
She took it and tore of a piece off. She moaned softly as she ate it.
"So good. I'm going to smell horrible, but I love this stuff."
She smiled at him.
Liam shrugged, breaking off a piece of the cheese bread.
"Thank Smoke; he's the one who went to all the trouble to get it. And he paid for it, too. I'll have to ask him what the tab is so I can pay for my share."
He walked over to his chair and plopped down, taking a large bite out of his chunk of bread.
Brogan just sat down on the floor beside him, and quietly ate her bread for a minute. Then she looked up at him.
"So what else do we have to do? After breakfast. There's a few more things to check and test before I approve this ship for flight but is there anything else that needs to be done?"
She took another bite of her garlic bread.
"Just a bit of inventory," he said, taking another large bite. "Need to make sure we have enough supplies for the journey and what not. If we need to get more, I think Que should stay behind this time."
Liam glanced over at Brogan.
"I trust you know what happened."
"I'm glad they're both okay. She said some men... I'm wondering how many there were. Did Smoke handle them all on his own?"
Liam nodded, polishing off his bread.
"You'd be surprised how good of a fighter that kid is. Hell, even I'm not foolish enough to take him on, one-on-one or with back up. He's scary fast."
Brogan's eyebrows arched.
She shook her head.
"That's amazing. There's a lot to him..."
She looked up at Liam.
"Do you know anything about him?"
Liam shrugged, leaning forward in his chair.
"Not much, to be honest," he admitted. "I know he was part of a militia fighting against the Enlighten, though not here in Brattford. Hopefully, he doesn't kill me for saying that; he's pretty guarded about what people do and don't know about him."
"I think I would've guessed that. Especially when I got the details of the fight from Que. Smoke might be reserved, but Que definitely isn't."
She took another bite of her bread.
Liam chuckled, leaning back into his seat.
"I can tell. Smoke seems to think she's got some sort of potential... or something like that. I stopped trying to figure out his ideas a long time ago. Just smile and nod, you know?"
He looked at Brogan, popping his fingers.
"She seems rather... well, weak if you ask me. I don't mean that as an insult or anything, but she's so... tiny... and doesn't seem to know much about the world around her."
"Yeah, but she's really determined to learn as much as she can. And knowledge is power."
Brogan tilted her head to the side.
"There is something off about her, and it isn't her naivety. It's something else."
"She said she wanted to learn how to drive the buggy in case of an emergency. I thought she had to be crazy. If there's an emergency, she'd probably be the one injured while I'd still be driving. But it did make me think why she would say that. It wasn't just empty boasting. She was completely confident about that."
"I don't know. Maybe there's something about her Smoke knows that we don't?"
"It wouldn't surprise me in the least," Liam chuckled. "Just don't pester him about it. I'm sure we'll learn what he means in time."
Back below deck, Que was resting on her side in the cot. She had fallen back asleep briefly, but after a few minutes woke again. Still, she remained in bed, quietly listening to Smoke eat beside her. After another few minutes, she rolled on her other side to look at him.
"Why are you staying with me?" she asked.
Smoke looked up at her.
"Because you want me to. And you'll be hungry soon."
Que blinked, rubbing her eyes and sitting up. She didn't remember asking him to stay with her, but she certainly didn't mind. For another minute, she said nothing. Then, she spoke softly.
"You're welcome," Smoke said softly. He lifted up the other half of the bread he had been holding for her and offered it up silently.
Que took the bread with another quiet "thank you" before taking a small bite. She watched Smoke, as if she expected him to do something, eating her bread carefully.
"When do you think we'll leave for Sylvora?"
"Whenever Liam and Brogan have the boat ready."
He paused, taking another bite of his bread.
"And when we have a plan."
Que nodded, understanding that, but...
"I wouldn't know where to begin with a plan," she admitted.
"Do you know where to look for those records you want?" he asked, his voice soft and quiet. Que sighed, shaking her head.
"No, I had expected to be able to ask when I got there. That won't be possible now, will it?"
Smoke shook his head.
"Not likely. We're going to need information. A map of Sylvora. Find out where they keep the kind of records you're looking for. The name of your mother and her family."
"I know her full maiden name," Que said with a nod. "It's written on the back of the photo..."
She pulled the photograph from her pocket and handed it to him.
"At least, I think that's her maiden name, since it isn't Arres..."
Smoke took the photograph and flipped it over. Atticus Arres. Pandora Blackthorne. He nodded.
"Blackthorne. Well, Brattford is pretty close to Sylvora. Some people here may know the Blackthornes. Maybe they'll know where to find information in Sylvora about the Blackthornes. We should start there."
He handed her back the photograph.
"You need some more rest."
But Que shook her head.
"I can't," she said. "I keep thinking about those men. The things they said. Smoke, they scared me. What did they mean by 'dessert' and 'pie'? I don't understand..."
Smoke stood up. He took the two steps that would take him to her. He crouched down until his face was level with hers. His eyes were dark, silver and penetrating.
"Do you really want to know, Que? Do you want to understand? The world isn't always a nice place. There are evil people in the world, lots of them. Sometimes there is no explanation for evil. Even if I tell you, I can't tell you why."
Que chewed on her lip, considering his words.
"I can't sleep. I can't stop wondering, and wondering makes my head hurt. Please, tell me what they meant."
Smoke's gaze never wavered from hers. They were made of steel, hard, unbendable and unforgiving.
"They meant you. You were meant to be their dessert, their pie. They would've taken the bread, taken our money, killed me and then raped you. And they never would've felt bad about it. They may even have killed you after they were through with you. If you were lucky."
Que was silent, and for a moment her eyes drifted away from his. She went over what he had said in her mind, now realizing more than ever how dangerous the men had been. Yet she was still confused, because she still didn't understand the meaning of everything Smoke said. She brought her gaze back up to his. She knew she probably shouldn't ask, but she couldn't help it.
"What is that? What does it mean, to rape? I've never heard of that before..."
Smoke was silent for an equally long while. His gaze never wavered from hers.
"Rape means that they would've held you down even though you tried to get away. It means they would've torn off your clothes with their knives, cut you and forced you to have sex with them."
He was quiet for a moment and then continued.
"Sex isn't just to make babies. It can be a wonderful thing when two people love each other. It gives great pleasure. But when someone forces sex onto someone who doesn't want it, it becomes hurtful the worst kind of hurtful. Like anything, it can be very good or be very bad. It depends on who is doing it. When there is love, it is beautiful."
He pointed at her photograph.
"Your parents loved each other. They had sex. They made love. It brought them both happiness. But these men just wanted to hurt you and take pleasure for themselves. And I wasn't going to let them do that to you. No one has a right to do that to anyone. I wasn't going to let them touch you."
Que stared at him for a long time after his explanation, her blue eyes filled with more fear than they had been when the attacked had actually occurred. Now that she understood what they had been after, she was more frightened than ever. Que's brow furrowed, tears filling her eyes.
She wrapped her arms around him again, burying her face in his shoulder.
"Please don't leave me," she sobbed against him. "I don't want anyone to do that to me..."
Smoke blinked. She couldn't see his moment of surprise, but it didn't last. He wrapped his arms around her and gave her comfort.
"I won't let them, Que. I won't leave."
If he was surprised at his own words, he didn't show it.
Que remained in his embrace a while longer before pulling herself back, wiping the tears from her eyes. She smiled gently at him.
"Thank you, Smoke," she said before lying back down on the cot. "Thank you for telling me... and protecting me."
He nodded and for a moment there was a flash of sheepishness on his face. In the next, it was gone. "Rest now, Que. I'll see what I can find out about the Blackthornes."
Que nodded giggled, but it was hard to say whether or not it was because she'd noticed the expression he'd had. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.
"Wake me when we're ready to..."
Her sentence trailed off into soft mumbling as she quickly drifted into sleep.
Smoke watched her for a moment, took what was left for the bread and headed back up to the deck.
Brogan looked up when he came out.
"She all right?" she asked.
"Yes." Smoke headed toward the ramp.
"Where are you going?" Brogan asked.
"Don't ask; just accept," Liam said, rolling his eyes. "I'm sure whatever he's looking for, it's relevant to our trip."
"I sure hope so." Brogan got up and stretched, making a small sound of pleasure. "For now, I guess it's time to tune up this rig and see what else she needs."
She looked over at Liam, an eyebrow arched.
"You up for some hard labor, Liam?"
He cocked an eyebrow. Though he knew what she meant, his thoughts were a little less kosher.
Brogan caught the look. When she turned to walk away there was a huge grin plastered on her face.
When Smoke came back several hours later, he had lunch and information. Brogan, by now, had gotten the airship in complete and perfect working order. It would run like a dream, was twice as fast and would last until the world ended unless Liam got blasted out of the sky again. BOB and DeeDee were at work polishing the base with no small amount of grumbling from BOB.
"So what did you find out?" Brogan asked Smoke as they sat around eating the kabobs he bought.
"We have to go to City Hall in Sylvora."
He looked up at Brogan, then Liam.
"That's where they'll have the records."
"Did you find out anything else?" she said. He nodded.
"The Blackthornes are wealthy people. Intelligent. They're either mostly dead, with the Enlightened or in hiding. They will not be easy to find."
"But they can be found right?"
"If we have names, it will be easier," he said with a nod.
"I'm sure Que will be ecstatic to hear this," Liam said, pulling about two whole chunks of meat off his kabob in one bite. Once he was mostly finished chewing, he continued.
"Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that she comes from a wealthy family. She certainly looks the part."
"But it's suicide to try to get into City Hall," Brogan said flatly. "That's probably where the Enlightened have set up their base. It's going to be impossible to get to those records and have the time to look through them."
"Which is why we need a plan."
Brogan rolled her eyes.
"Think we could get a layout of the building?" Liam suggested, taking another huge bite of his kabob. "Getting a city layout is easy enough, but if we could actually get a floor plan of City Hall..."
Brogan shook her head.
"Unless we somehow get a copy that was smuggled out of Sylvora unlikely a floor plan of the building would probably be inside the building."
She rubbed her temples leaving smudges of engine grease on them.
"The Hall of Records would be in City Hall. And even if we could get in and find the room, there's probably thousands of records in there. Finding the information on the Blackthornes in the amount of time we'd have is just not possible."
Smoke was quiet for a long moment.
"I can get us a floor plan," he said. The words were strained, as if whatever way he was going to get it wasn't going to be pleasant.
Brogan smiled at him.
"That's great, Smoke. But we still won't have enough time to get in there, look for what we need, and get back out without being caught."
Liam scoffed, shaking his head.
"You doubt too much. Sure, it will be extremely difficult and extremely dangerous, but it's not impossible. Nothing's impossible."
He leaned back in his chair, pulling out a cigarette now that he'd finished eating.
"And never forget the power of luck."
Brogan rolled her eyes.
"So are you suggesting we fly by the seat of our pants and risk getting us all killed?"
She arched an eyebrow.
"I prefer the idea of actually having a plan. Something that will buy us plenty of time to get in and out. Having a floor plan will help, but getting to the room will only be a fraction of the time."
"A distraction would help," Smoke said.
"You got any ideas?" Liam asked, the newly lit cigarette hanging from his lips. "I'm still wrapping my mind around getting us there. I know the route we should take to go unseen, but on the ground... it's just not my forte there."
Brogan looked confused.
"Aren't we going by air?"
"Liam, you have to stay in the air."
"I intend to," the pilot agreed. "For as long as I can. I'll need to land somewhere to drop you off, and this ship wasn't built to hover. I'll have to fly in circles if you want me to keep airborne, and that will make it more difficult to stay hidden for a long time. You know that, Smoke."
"Hence the need for a distraction so they aren't looking at the sky," Brogan added. She shook her head.
"If there was a way so that way you wouldn't have to land," she smirked briefly, "And you could hover then maybe we'd have a shot."
She shrugged and took a bite of her kabob.
"I've got nothing boys. If we could get this baby to hover in one spot above City Hall for just long enough for us to be dropped off without landing would be a plus. If we were in and out and we could be picked up the same way, that would also help. However I'm not seeing either of these as a possibility unless I do some serious changing of this ship."
"So we aren't going to Sylvora?"
Que peered from the doorway leading below deck. When she had started listening in on the conversation was hard to say, but by the look on her face, she had heard everyone's doubts about the trip. Liam glanced at the other two.
"I am not going to try and explain it to her..."
Brogan shook her head.
"Que, getting to Sylvora isn't the problem. It's getting out. Unless you want to end your trip short by dying there we need to figure out how to get out."
The young woman chewed on her lip. She glanced over at the two bots.
"Could we make a decoy?" she asked. "You know, just a small little thing that looks like the ship from the air, but flies away from where we are so that anyone guarding follows it instead?"
Brogan pursed her lips.
"Hmm... That could work. It couldn't be too small though. It would have to be large enough to give them the impression of a ship maybe even have a military look to it so it will get them nervous and pay more attention to it."
She looked to Liam.
"That will put you in the clear to a degree. You can keep moving around with the clouds, at a slower rate, and keep an eye on them following the decoy."
She finished off her kabob and then crossed her arms.
"But in order to make it look real I'll either have to program it with some advanced flight maneuverability so it looks like someone is manning it, or have it remote controlled. Either way it'll take a few days. A week tops. I can't have something like that done right away."
"During that time we can think up our plan for getting in and getting out."
"I'll see what I can find out."
He stood up.
"I want to go with you!" Que suddenly said, jogging over to stand next to Smoke. She latched onto his arm, and Liam couldn't hold back his laughter.
"Why does this remind me of that puppy that used to follow you around?"
Smoke looked over at Que. He took her hand gently.
"No, Que. You shouldn't come."
Her brows furrowed as she searched his face.
He was quiet for a long moment. Finally he said, "I have to meet some people that are very secretive. They will speak to me, but they might not if I have someone with me."
Que didn't like this answer, but she bowed her head in understanding.
"Hey, cheer up!" Liam said, walking over to her. "You can help me and Brogan work on that decoy. After all, it was your idea, and I'm sure you'd love to see how something like that gets put together, right?"
They could all see the curiosity in Que's eyes as her expression instantly lit up.
Smoke gave Liam a nod of thanks. He patted Que's shoulder and then headed off the ship.
Brogan shook her head, a small smile on her lips. That Smoke was a strange young man.
"Come on, Que. We've got to dig through all the junk on the back platform of the buggy and see what we can pull together."
She quirked her finger at Liam.
"You're coming too, big guy. Let's go."