It’s still Saturday somewhere, right?
This is the second half of this story. You can read the first half here.
Cary reached up and grabbed a handful of vegetation as he dug his right foot into a gap between stones. He pulled himself up, already looking for the next handhold, only to have the tendrils in his left hand give way. He slid back, scraping his hands as he flailed to keep himself from falling back onto his canoe. He caught a woody section of vine, and paused, palms burning. He could hear Greg crying, and the other kids shouting..
Pay attention. No time to rush things.
Looking up, he chose his grip, and tried again. One handhold at a time, ignoring the bugs and grime, making sure every grip would hold him to the next one. As he drew parallel with the upside-down child, he could hear an approaching siren. Greg’s brown skin was taking on a darker purple hue as the blood pooled in his head. Cary made sure his right hand and feet were well planted, then carefully slid his left arm under Greg’s shoulders, taking a little weight off the ankle. Greg let out a short scream, but he grabbed Cary’s shoulder, and braced as Cary heaved upward. He brought Greg to a sitting position, his back to the canal below, and braced himself again.
“Greg, do you think you can grab ahold of something, for just a moment?”
“I’ve got you, kid. Give it a second.”
Cary craned his head to look around. He hear the siren getting closer, and see the flashing green light of the emergency response team.
“Help’s almost here, Greg.”
The kid nodded, and took a deep, shuddering breath. Cary checked his footing.
“Greg, Do you think you can reach forward and grab a vine? I’ll help.”
Greg nodded again, and Cary pushed upward, his left arm and shoulder burning with the effort. Greg caught hold of a vine with his left hand, and fumbled with his left foot till he found a solid ledge.
“Great job,” said Cary. “Now we just need to hold here.”
He heard a chorus of whining motors as the fleet of emergency drones arrived. They hovered around the two humans, then three of the drones backed off as one of the two remaining ones spoke.
“Greg, we’ve pulled up your records, and there’s an ambulance right behind us. You’re gonna be OK. Do you think you can lift your ankle out of where it’s caught?”
Greg pressed against Cary’s supporting arm, and pulled his right foot free. The shoe remained behind.
“Great job, Greg.” The drone turned to Cary and a light flickered as it looked him up. “Cary, if you can just support him a little longer?”
“Greg, we’re going to give you a temporary splint and an anti-inflammatory patch.”
Greg nodded. Cary looked down and watched as a drone sprayed the ankle, washing off grime and blood, then inflated a splint around it. That drone moved away, and another one replaced it, reaching out to gently place a patch on Greg’s leg just above the new splint.
“Greg, would you please hold out your right hand?”
Greg did as he was asked, and the drone sprayed it with something that foamed, causing Greg to wince. The foam was rinsed off, and the drone sprayed something else onto his palm that solidified into a transparent bandage.
“That should take care of you till you reach the hospital.
Cary craned his head to look at the boy’s face. “You OK, Greg?”
“Yeah, the pain just went away. In my ankle, too.”
“These people know their stuff.”
“Thank you, Cary. The human crew has arrived, and they’ll have a stretcher up here momentarily.”
Cary looked down. The ambulance below had already extended its outriggers, and the crew was attaching stabilizers to the wall as a stretcher platform rose up from its deck, carrying two medics. When they drew level, they eased Greg onto the stretcher, then one of them looked up.
“Cary, was it?” She tapped her glasses. “We get a live feed of what the first responders find. Are you OK? Do you need a lift back to your boat?”
Cary could see his canoe a little ways down the canal. He reached into the vines and grabbed Greg’s shoe. He offered it to the medic.
“Greg will want this. If I could get a patch on my hands, that’d be great, but I’ll just jump down when you leave – I need to wash all the leaves and stuff off and then get back to work.”
“Sure thing. Brak, could you do his hand?”
Cary held out his hand, and the drone bobbed over to spray the scrapes on his palm. The foam stung, but the rinse made the pain start to fade almost immediately. The bandage solidified, tightening a little and pulling at his skin. He carefully gripped a vine and held out his other hand.
“Don’t do anything too rough with this,” said the drone, “but it should hold for a while. If you want to take it off when you get home, put a little alcohol on it, and it’ll peel right off. It would be good to let the abrasions air when you can do so safely.”
“Thanks, uh, Brak.”
“It’s a pleasure to help. Take care!”
With Greg safely aboard the ambulance, it turned around and sped into Turtle Bay, lights flashing.
“Hey mister, is Greg gonna be OK?”
Cary waved at the kids who’d been waiting under the bridge.
“He’ll be fine. Probably just a sprained ankle and a few scrapes. I bet he’ll be home later today.”
“Should we tell his parents?”
“Nah, the hospital will call them, if they haven’t already. He’s in good hands, just make sure you’re careful climbing around here. I know a kid who lost an eye that way!”
“Oh shit! Really?”
“He’s got a replacement that works pretty well, but it was a bad time – not something I’d want to go through.”
“I dunno, a robot eye sounds pretty cool.”
“What? It does?”
“It might sound cool, but last time I saw the kid he said it wouldn’t stop itching. Better to hold on to the eyes you’ve got for now.”
Cary looked down to make sure the water was clear, and then jumped away from the wall, holding his nose and taking a big breath. He plunged into the canal, and swam back to the surface. When he wiped the water from his eyes, he saw the canoe right in front of him. The Fae drones had dragged it over.
Cary submerged, then lunged out of the water, throwing his weight over the near gunwale, and grabbing the opposite one to keep the canoe from capsizing. He rolled into the canoe, and clambered into his seat, dripping. He looked around at the Fae drones.
“Thanks for bringing the boat over. Sorry for the delay.”
One of the drones flew over and landed next to him.
“Don’t be. Helping the child was the more important thing.”
The voice in his earpiece was deep and resonant. Cary blinked, then looked down at the drone.
“Is that- I take it you’ve decided to talk to me?”
“You helped the child, and even injured yourself doing so.”
“I’d hardly call this an injury. The bandage might as well be a layer of skin, and I can’t feel any pain in my hands.”
“Still. I liked that you did that. You can call me Youngest.”
“I’m Cary. Pleased to meet you.”
“And you. The others still have the scent, so we may resume our hunt when you are ready. ”
“Right.” He turned in his seat and swiveled the outboard motor into the water. “You reminded me of my hands – I probably shouldn’t paddle right now. Could you tell the Houndmaster I’m sorry for the delay?”
He flexed his hands a couple times. They felt a little strange and tingly, but not painful. He powered on the motor, and gently squeezed the throttle as he turned the canoe.
“I’ll relay the sentiment,” said Youngest, “but it’s not needed. Fae would have helped, but none of the pack is equipped for that, so calling the ambulance was the best we could do.”
They glided under the bridge, and Cary waved at the kids above.
“I’m glad you did. I didn’t even think of it.”
“Those of us who aren’t human are rarely disconnected from the network, so it’s as easy as shouting would be for you.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
He sat in silence for a time, watching reflection of the darkening sky in the canal, disturbed by the trail of bubbles from the Houndmaster, and the occasional splash of a fish nabbing one of the flies that danced just above the surface. The sky turned from dark gray to a dull golden as the city lit the clouds. The water’s surface now sparkled with lights from the surrounding buildings, and in the dark patches, fish laid glowing trails, and the Houndmaster’s bubbles shimmered blue as they rose to the surface.
The voice startled him out of his trance-like state.
“What?” He looked down. Youngest was speaking.
“There’s been a change in plans.”
Cary released the throttle, allowing the canoe to slow down and drift.
“What’s going on?”
“The Houndmaster sent sniffers ahead, down into the tunnels. It’s not a leak. It’s an outlet.”
“But that’s not- They can’t do that!”
“Indeed. It seems there is an incursion of some sort.”
The drone nearest the bow popped into the air and swooped over to them.
“Maybe outsiders. We can’t assume that.” Faer voice was higher, and thinner in Cary’s ear.
Cary looked back and forth between the two. Faen were shaped rather like spheres that had been squashed into a thick, rounded disk, about ten centimeters across. Four turbines held faen afloat, with stripes made of what looked patterns of gold wire forming an “X” between them. The quarters had a variety of markings and instruments on them, the latter of which Cary assumed were for sampling the air. The one that had just approached had a great deal more decorative metal patterns on faer outer casing than Youngest.
“Youngest here jumps to conclusions.”
“I’m just giving the most likely conclusion.”
Cary blinked. The more decorated one spoke again, still hovering in front of Cary.
“I am Eldest. Youngest is correct that it is most likely outsiders. It’s unlikely someone from here would have any reason for whatever is going on down there. Moreover, they are within Fae jurisdiction. In fact, we owe you a debt for bringing this to our attention.”
“You do not,” said Cary. “I’m doing my part, same as anyone.”
“I value that sentiment. Are you willing to provide more help, before your part in this hunt is concluded?”
“Good. Look in the water to your right.”
Cary looked down, and then jerked back, rocking the canoe, as the giant hound’s head that had ridden on the Houndmaster’s shoulder surfaced, eyes still glowing. Looking again, Cary could see two of the under water sniffers holding it up.
“Take it, if you will. It is fairly heavy.”
He braced himself to steady the boat and leaned over, heaving the large hunk of metal into his lap. It was surprisingly warm for something that had been under water for the last hour or so.
“You may put it on the floor of the boat. If you’re willing, we’d like to get back to Otherworld as quickly as we can. Will you take us?”
“Of course.” He set the head on the floor and scooted it forward to put its weight nearer to the front. “Seeing this through is part of my own responsibility to my guild. That, and Jo would be disappointed if I wasn’t thorough.”
“That she would be.”
“You know her, Eldest?”
“Yes, but can we get moving?”
“Oh, right. One moment!”
Cary knelt forward and flipped a switch on the canoe’s yoke. The rim of the gunwales extended out and down on telescoping arms, runners inflating out of them. Cary shifted back to his seat and slowly turned the boat around. By the time he was facing back the way they had come, the inflatable outriggers were in the water. Eldest settled on the hound’s head, and Cary squeezed the throttle. The prow lifted up as the boat gained speed, and two of the other Fae sniffer drones lifted off to fly ahead of him. He blinked in surprise as they began flashing green and gold lights. It hadn’t occurred to him until this moment, but he was officially working as a public servant right now, which meant he had the right to announce a right of way.
Eldest spoke in his ear again.
“To answer your earlier question, yes – I know Jo. She has a lot of friends in Otherworld, and in other parts of the city. I think if you did quit at first opportunity, she would never let you live it down.”
“That sounds like Jo.”
“She has a remarkable memory for that sort of thing, and it all comes out when she gets drunk.”
“Huh. Never seen her drunk.”
“Maybe she doesn’t drink around apprentices?” Cary slowed as they reached the bridge that had had children on it before, but everything was quiet. He picked up speed again, turning to go along the northwest boundary of Turtle Bay on his way back to Central Park.
“Yeah, that sounds about right. I guess that’s something to look forward to. Have you gone drinking with her? I- I’m sorry, is there something that’s like drinking for you?”
“There is not, but we tend to enjoy socializing with our human friends. The effects that drugs have on you are often very entertaining.”
“So I hear. It’s not something I’ve explored much.”
“As I understand it, there’s no hurry, and it’s important to feel safe. Speaking of which, there’s some traffic ahead.”
Cary slowed the boat as they drew closer to the park. More vessels were in the canal, and while there was a clear path thanks to the flashing drones, it was crowded enough to make him nervous. The traffic grew thicker as they reached the entrance, and Cary could hear music and laughter ringing out across the water from the myriad of food and entertainment vessels around them. He felt his stomach growl as they cruised by an aromatic curry boat, followed almost immediately by the smell of grilling meat.
“I’m gonna have to find a good place to eat after this.”
“Celebratory meals are customary for humans when marking important occasions.”
“I- Yes. Well said, Youngest.”
As he navigated through the crowd of brightly-lit boats, Cary could see people pausing their conversations and craning to get a look at him and his Fae companions. He felt his cheeks heating a little, and tried to keep his eyes focused on the water ahead of him.
After passing into Central Park, things opened up a bit, and Cary sped across the last kilometer to the Floating Market. A new wave of smells and sounds hit him as he guided the boat around to the northwest, where he could dock right next to the entrance to Manhattan’s Otherworld. He leaned forward and flipped the switch to pull in the outriggers, then scooped his paddle off the bottom as the Fae all flew over to gather on the dock. The abrasions on his palms were starting to itch, but he dipped the paddle in the water and feathered the canoe up to a mooring. He hoisted the Fae hound’s head out onto the dock, and then climbed out himself, kneeling to tie the painter to the mooring.
“Ok. Let’s get this head back to its body, yes?” Cary looked around at his electronic companions. “I hope you can get me there?”
“Of course”, said Eldest. “Let’s be on our way.”
“Yup. Yup.” Cary stood with a groan, then bent to scoop up the head. “Let’s be on our way.”
The elevator door opened as he approached it, and instead of a glowing point of light, a string of bobbing drones guided him through the dimly lit tunnels. The hall-like room was brightly lit as he entered, and he quickly crossed to place the head back on the shoulders of the great metal hound. It clicked into place, and the eyes turned black. He stepped back and watched as the drones entered its mouth one at a time. There was a moment of silence, then the eyes lit up again, and the hound rose smoothly to its feet.
“Thank you for your help,” Eldest’s voice now came from the hound’s motionless mouth. “Now. We have a hunt to finish, and your part in it is done.”
“Just you?” Cary frowned. “If there is an incursion, shouldn’t you have more help?”
“Faen will,” said a nasal voice behind him.
Cary stifled a yelp of surprise and spun around. Two more Fae were standing behind him, one carrying a large duffle, and the other a black, rectangular case of some sort.
“We’ll guide you back to the surface, and then take our own boat to meet The Houndmaster.”
There was a sound of rushing water, and Cary turned to see the hound vanishing into the lake just as the Houndmaster had before. Youngest’s deep voice rang in his ear.
“We’ll let you know how this turns out, once it’s all dealt with.”
“Thanks!” He shouted it, before realizing there was no way fae could have heard him. “Oh well.” He turned to his new companions.
“Dornan.” The nasal voice belonged to the one carrying the dufflebag, who nodded a greeting. Fae was a little taller than Cary, with a ruddy face, pale blonde hair, and artificial eyes with glowing purple irises.
“Weaver”.” The other was the same height as Cary, but stockier, with dark brown skin, large dark eyes, and black hair in tight braids against faer scalp. Both of faen were dressed in black diving suits.
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise, but there’s work to do. Shall we go?”
“Uh. Yeah. Yeah, lead the way.”
Faen turned and left the room, with Cary trotting after. Faen led him back to the surface in silence, bid him a curt farewell, and disappeared into the floating market, presumably going to their boat. Cary stood looking after them, then turned and stared out across the park.
I guess that’s it. I’m a full member now!
He unzipped a pocket in his shorts and pulled out his tablet. He wrote a note to Jo, letting her know that the Fae had told him his part in it was done. He sighed, and walked over to sit on the dock, his feet in his canoe as he looked out over the water. All that excitement, but he didn’t know what the actual cause of the problem was, he’d just been told that his part in it had come to an end. He lay back on the cool, flat surface of the dock, and looked up to see Jo standing over him, her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face.
“Your part with the Fae might be done, but the guild isn’t done with you yet, apprentice.”
He scrambled to his feet.
“What do you mean? Did I mess up?”
Jo cackled. “What? No. We’ve gotta welcome you into the guild. We hired a party boat, come on!”
“Will be there in the morning. I’ll make sure you get home OK.”
“Wait I can’t just leave it-”
“Well, sure you can. In the unlikely event there’s a thief about, think someone’s gonna steal a boat tied to a Fae mooring? Nope. No excuses.”
She grabbed him by the arm and marched him towards the market.
“You know,” he said. “Eldest said you tell stories when you start drinking.”
“Ha! Well, you’re a full member of the guild now, so I guess you’ll stick around long enough to find out!”
Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at patreon.com/oceanoxia. Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.