Herby looked about as happy as a frog on a griddle. She stood on the prow of a small boat that SmithGuild owned only because it had washed up on his beach. Smithy suffered from an engineer's compulsion to fix anything he found, so it was in working order, but being operated by two satyrs without the faintest idea how to sail.
The sails, themselves, proved beyond their collective comprehension — much to Herby's annoyance.
The Satyrs were self-teaching themselves a course on Oars: 101. It was a slow process.
Herby stood at the prow, her claws slipped and landed on something that squawked with annoyance. A Lapis phoenix emerged from the gunnels, fluffing its metallic feathers.
"If you were not a possession of my brother," Herby said. "I would toss you overboard and feel not a moment's remorse."
The phoenix scuttled away to hide behind the satyrs.
Finally, Herby dug her claws into the prow and started to use her wings to drive the small boat forward. The prow dove deep into the water, minimizing forward progress.
The wing-beat gusts toppled BugleHead off his perch, he landed on top of the indignant phoenix and threw his oar overboard in the process.
HoneyBeard used his oar to hook back the other. "I never thought I would find myself missing Nelda," he said. "But perhaps if the honorable gryphon HerbGuild would try that maneuver from the rear of the vessel. The stowaway sinking bird could be lookout at the front. And we will put the oars into their oar-holding-type devices here; a little more progress could be made. One thing Nelda taught me is that idiocy, properly harnessed, can make a surprising amount of purely physical progress."
Beaker led Nelda through a building-void obstacle course, often checking back on her impatiently. Attempting to help her up through a hollow wall-space his hand slipped from under her armpit to under her boob. He let go, and her ass fell down onto a steaming pipe, simultaneously injuring her coccyx and her dignity.
"Sorry," Beaker said. "But you are taking forever."
"Well thanks so much for the sorry, not sorry. But I have a twisted-maybe-broken ankle, a knackered kneecap, my wrists are shackled together, and I have one or two possible concussions. So cut me a fucking break, maybe." Nelda readjusted her bra.
"Shhh. We are right next to a meeting room, and someone may be in there."
[You started this conversation, Indiana Blows.]
Nelda took a deep breath, took a moment, and continued upwards. They continued through a sadistic industrial reimagining of a McDonald's playground, finally exiting into a slightly larger space lit by a lantern shaped flashlight.
A small group of people assembled around the light made a space for Beaker and her. They were sitting cross-legged which was not currently in Nelda's repertoire. She ended up lying awkwardly on her front.
A substantial woman with a British accent snapped, "Tyrone you absolute Muppet, you had her come the whole way with handcuffs on? Why didn't you come and get the bolt cutters?"
[I think I like her.]
The rest of the company was made up by a nervous looking blonde woman, a large mostly bald man on overalls, and another man with a bushy red beard.
The large lady shuffled over to a mesh-fronted cabinet, staying on her knees because of the low ceiling. She pulled out the promised bolt cutters.
"My lunch period ends soon," the blonde girls said. "Unlike some people, I only get forty-five minutes."
"Who cares about that, Jen. We're meeting the first human to travel to another populated world!"
"She's right," said the woman with the bolt cutters. "We need to act normal to have any chance of getting away with this." She started by snipping the chain between the two cuffs. To Nelda, she said, "I'm Phillis. I'm a grant-funded P.I. based in Building One."
"Can you ever shut up about that grant," muttered the bald man,
"You've met Tyrone," she continued. "And we have Manny who is a janitor…."
"Custodian," corrected the bald man.
"Man with a mop."
"Man with access to all the keys and codes."
Phyllis waved him off. "…And Reginald, Reg, who is a technician. Between us, we found out that Fenestrate it heading for bankruptcy and the new Queen Bitch will do anything to get her bodged together StarGate to show proof of concept without getting shut down to legal reasons. And you are a health-and-safety fly in that particular ornament. Given all that, once you spill the beans, she means for you to disappear."
"Disappear?" Nelda asked.
Reg made a neck slitting gesture while grinning incongruously and staring at her cleavage.
"Oh." Nelda crossed her arms over her chest.
Tyrone-slash-Beaker gulped. "Prof Parsons told Donegal that you sabotaged the Portenator. He doesn't actually think that, but he didn't want her to think he messed up. She scares the bejezus out of him, and it's only a few months till he's qualified for full retirement. He never thought it was actually going to work. He's kind of an accidental genius. The Porty was just mean to look convincing for a while, not actually work--"
Phyllis slapped her palm on her thigh. "Okay, people. I see you shuffling, Jen. You get back. Leave on time as usual, but come in tomorrow with some clothes for Nelda. Medium size, she's not a stunted little pony-riding pixie like you. Go to the cafeteria void at lunch; we'll move her there. It's got a lot of stone around it, and it's warmer."
Jen nodded and backed away.
"What else are you going to need right away?" Phyllis asked
Nelda thought for a moment. "Food and water. Aspirin. Wet wipes? This might seem odd but I really need to lapis lazuli stones about the size of a normal marble. I'll explain about that later. Oh, and everything you can find out about… the guy I was with."
Reg leaned forward still grinning like a maniac. "Is he from the other side?"
[I guess I have to go all in with these weirdos.] "Yes, and he's got to be pretty freaked out by now. Can we--"
"Working on it," Phyllis said. "But it's all locked down right now. We need to scope out what we agree we are doing here. Then an order of business."
Reg rolled his eyes. "Don't start that Robert's Rules bullshit again. A counter-culture club doesn't need—"
"I'm not counter culture," Phyllis growled. "And if this ever was a club it isn't now. We might be whistleblowers; we might be terrorists—"
"We might be the first urban explorers to go to another world." Reggie broke in.
"Is that what we're trying to do?" Many blurted. He didn't seem against the idea.
"I don't know, do I?" Phyllis hissed. That's what we have to decide first. And then Nelda's going to say her peace. And we've got ten minutes till we adjourn. Leave at our usual times, come back at our usual times, and meet at the caf void for lunch, just like usual. Right?"
The two men mumbled affirmations.
"Aw'right," Phyllis said, seizing control of things again. "First five minutes, tell us what it's like over there."
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