Amelia sat shivering beneath the mass of the Isabella. A long rifle in her hands,a gift for “volunteering” for the night guard shift; she could see her breath billow out into clouds before her. Absently she hoped Cedric was not as cold as she was and checked her watch. Almost five hours since the ship had been taken. Admittedly, with the Order mechanics done with the exterior repairs, the ship looked better than ever. The interior was still needing a good bit of work, but the workmen would be toiling through the night to repair that as wel;l as per the orders of their general. Whom, Amelia had surmised, kept new interns and fresh recruits just long enough to teach them to fear their commanders before shipping them off to other bases and forts across the verse.
The Isabella hovered over the ground now, still bolted in place, but her antigrav motors were operating at least. The stars above already twinkled in the oncoming darkness. Noises in the courtyard brought her to face an elderly man carrying a heavy load of tools. He hobbled, crooked with age and hard work, as he walked. He had a kind face behind his wrinkles and as he passed Amelia he smiled weakly.
“They throw you out into the cold then, have they?”
Amelia shook her head gently, “Well, I suppose someone has to do it. Better me than anyone else.”
“Good notion, if you ask me.” He grinned toothlessly. “I say, why don’t you come around this way, and stand on the other side of the ship…if you do, I will share my hot chocolate with you.”
At first Amelia disliked the forwardness of the older man, it seemed forced, and somewhat creepy…but it was cold and the warm drink sounded very good.
“Well…I guess I can’t say no to hot chocolate.”
Following the old man around the front bow, the elder brought her to a podium where a large lit panel sat in the center. He pressed a few buttons which clicked and whirred from under the fort. The cobblestone surfacing seemed to shift somewhat, and as she watched, a large palette of wood rose from beneath their feet. Amelia blinked and rubbed her eye a bit. The fort seemed far too old to have that kind of technology in place. Something warm bumped her hand and she looked back at the elderly man who held out a cup of hot drink to her.
“I know, seems odd doesn’t it? That fancy sort of stuff all under the fort…Why, I’ve lived here the better part of fifty years, it runs the whole length of this place and more than that in the transport tunnels under the fort in the bedrock.”
“You don’t say…” Amelia muttered taking the first drink of the mug. She sniffed it subtly hoping it wasn’t drugged.
“You don’t have to worry, Miss.” The workman said at length as he picked up a highly ornate finishing piece from the pile of wood. “I wouldn’t harm someone watching out for their home…”
Amelia stiffened internally. “Of course I watch out for my home…I like my job!”
He shook his head and smiled again. “Of course you do…As do I. I don’t love living on this rock with all these militant young people, however…Home and family sounds much better to me.”
“I can understand that.” She replied drinking from the cup. The older man stepped up onto a small ladder and began to attach the ornaments.
“Hideous aren’t they? I never have liked this General Liam’s taste in decoration…too showy.”
Amelia nodded her head discreetly. The man went about his work until it started to snow. Nearly the entire front bow of the ship was covered in the ornamental scrollwork the general had ordered, and despite the anti-grav engines work, the ship had begun to tip forward ever so slightly.
“She won’t fly straight.” Amelia muttered to herself.
“No, and the general was told that…that’s why I only barely attached it. Surely, tomorrow he will order me to remove it…saying I have failed to do my work properly…” The old man chuckled to himself…”But for now, it is cold and we should move indoors.”
“I doubt I should leave my post…” Amelia replied.
“Your fellow watchmen have been gone for the better part of the hour. Just here, inside this arch near the heater until the snow stops.”
Amelia followed him reluctantly and joined him just far enough inside to feel the heat, but not far enough to lose sight of the ship.
The heat from the external generator was comforting, but Amelia had a strange sensation in the floor under her feet. She swore she could feel the earth trembling. She finished her glass, and held the rifle that much closer as she turned her head, a lantern on the far side of the courtyard clattered to the ground. She wasn’t imagining it. The earth was shaking.