Suggestion

Over and over, the ride up and down that damn elevator never ceased.  No sooner had she, Bach, and Haley reached the bottom than would Khloe again feel the motion in the pit of her stomach that said, we’re going up!  All the while, the Archdruid and young engineer never ceased to talk… never noticed that the elevator neither once opened its door, nor ceased its motion for more time than it took to reverse direction.  Endlessly those two talked, and never did a word of it make the slightest bit of sense to Khloe.

This had been going on for quite a while now.  Every once in a while, Khloe would try to wrest attention from either one of her ‘vator companions, if always without success.  Then something new; a tug at the back of her mind.

Khloe opened her eyes, and clenched them shut again as she rolled her head away from a direct shaft of afternoon’s sun.  Every time she’d slept since arriving at this kilometers-wide lily-pad of a city, she’d had nightmares.

At first they involved screaming metal, shattering glass, and incessant onslaughts of murky salt water.  Over the last few days, though, these tortures had skewed toward the ceaselessly mundane.  Somehow, these felt all the more cruel.

There came the that tug again.  She’d thought she’d only imagined it in the dream that, even now, faded from memory.

Groaning as she flipped over, Khloe buried herself even deeper into the thin sheets and fuzzy pillows.  In spite of some few further minutes of peace, someone yanked at her psyche once again.

“What?” she exhaled by way of muffled yell into her pillow.  Her response allowed the completion of a wireless link.

“Sleeping again?”

Khloe recognized the voice, and though she spoke back, it was not with her living voice.  “Uncle Oscar.”  She flopped onto her back and greedily sucked down some fresh air.  

“You’re just a voice, Niece-in-Law.”  

“I’m not decent,” she shot back both across the wireless, “and I’ve no mind to get out of bed, thank you very much.”

“You’re snippier than usual,” the voice returned.  “So how is it going out there?”

This wasn’t the first time he’d asked.  After that first night, he’d made his token inquiries into her health and mental well being, sure… but since then, he’d only ever asked after the ‘situation,’ as he usually referred to it.

“The engineer’s plans have moved forward pretty much as is,” she began.  “Not since they first shifted gears has there really been any change… except, I think, for one thing.  There’s talk now about an early warning system that they might… I dunno… that they might somehow grow,” she said, drawing the word out to the point of almost becoming a question, “as a network across the ocean floor.”

“Sounds expensive,” Oscar’s voice said.

Khloe nodded, and even that basic physical motion carried across the wireless in spite of her being invisible to him.

“The Archdruid even mentioned it as a possible buy-in for other nano-industrial firms that have been pushing back against American Telepresence’s close familiarity to Sir Representative Abraham.  As would turn out to be the case, there’s tons of work to be done, and plenty of Union funding to go around.”

“Assuming they approve such a bill.”

“Of course,” she replied.  “No need to push Sandy on this, though.  He’ll cosign this sort of legislation without a second thought, and not just because his old company might be spearheading the effort.”

“He’s never struck me as the sort,” the figment voice observed.

“No.  For once, the Union has an honest congressman on their hands.”  If anything, she felts a surge of pride well up from within her as she said this, taking care, of course, not to broadcast that across the wireless.  She’d come to like the suave old man, in the end, and would just as soon keep old Oscar’s tentacles off him as much as possible.

“It’s just as well you work for him, then,” her uncle’s voice returned.

“Oh?”

“Not just because his old company happens to own several nanite templates.”  

“Right,” Khloe drawled out.

“Well,” the voice began before drifting off into a thoughtful pause.  “Yet another opportunity for us, I suppose… this network project.  Many of our partners can get in on that, from the sounds of it.”

Khloe pulled herself up, knowing now that there’d be no getting back to sleep.  She did not bother to reach for any clothing before wandering out into the main room of her temporary apartments.

Though the ocean did make for a somewhat milder experience, the summer had been one sour hell of a hot one, and wasn’t half over yet.  Crossing toward the cooler, she reached for an empty glass.  “A couple other things,” she added before pouring herself some ice-cold water.

“Hmm?”

“Well… for one, there’s also talk about developing a means of preventing future eruptions of this methane stuff.”  Having said this, she downed half the glass.

Her uncle’s voice did not come back for a few moments, but then; “That sounds even more expensive.”

God!  Everything’s always about money with these people.  Maybe she had too little appreciation for the stuff, as she’d been told by her elders more than often enough.  She may be one of them, but that didn’t mean she had to like all their sour peculiarities.

Khloe had to guard these thoughts so as not to broadcast them over the wireless.  Still, she was a Kalitzakis.  She needn’t guard her tongue too much.

“Uncle,” she drawled out without any attempt at disguising her irritation.

The voice chuckled just once.  “Yes, dear.  Naturally, we all want to still have a world for you and your children to inherit.  Besides, who better than we to see that these tasks get done?”

Khloe inhaled the rest of her water, gasping from the chill that followed.  “Of course,” she replied with a voice that almost shuddered.  She certainly didn’t feel hot, now.  If anything, her insides hurt from the seeming ball of ice working its way down within her.  “The Jjee’en wouldn’t have the money to throw at things like this if they hadn’t been making a steady profit along the way.”

“I hope you were alone when mentioning that name,” the voice came back.  Her uncle did not wait for any reply, though.  “Is there any viability to this idea?”

Khloe shrugged, allowing the motion to translate over the wireless.  “It’s beyond me,” she said, “but those two seem awfully damned excited about it.  I feel like a third wheel’s third wheel every time I’m stuck around ‘em for any length of time.  They quickly forget about me and go on for hours.  I wish they’d just get a room, or something.”

After some moments of ethereal silence, the voice returned.  If he’d felt any amusement over her statement, he’d kept it to himself.  “Well… naturally everyone is concerned about what this first incident means for the future, so I hope you’ll make their project a point of interest for yourself.  I’ll want to hear all about it, of course.”

“Of course.”

“You said there was something second to mention?”  

Oh.  “Yes, right.  With all the pushing and pulling between congressmen wishing to represent their particular nanotech corporation constituencies, Sir Abraham hasn’t had any success slipping into any bill an authorization for assistance from the coast guard or navy in hunting down the missing Ay-Tee templates.  I was hoping we could make that easier for him somehow.”

Again, the voice was slow to return.  “We could, but should not.”

Huh?  “Why?”

“Aside from raising a few eyebrows, the fact remains that not only is the whole of the east coast in turmoil right now, genuinely needing federally organized attention… but Yucatan separatists are making noises as well.  More than usual, I mean.”

“I suppose,” she admitted.

“Offer them a ship.”

What, now?  “A ship?”

“Sure,” returned Oscar’s figment voice.  “It’s no secret that the Kalitzakis line has wealth.  We’ll give you an aeroyacht.  Call it your dad’s, or something like that, and offer up its indefinite use.  We might not have called for it, ourselves, but Lady Diaz’s incorporating Sir Kavanagh’s talents under the cloak of D.R.U.I.D suits our needs just fine.  We’d like to see him equipped with every resource he can get… and better these be resources that are already under his control than ones that take time and money to create or appropriate.”

Khloe couldn’t argue.  “Alright, I guess.  I’ll want to go along, though.”

“Sell the Congressman on that, and go right ahead.  Consider a ship already on its way.”

Khloe nodded.  “Fine then.  Is there anything else?”  

“What you’ve told me so far will take my confidants and I quite some time to digest.  Just keep me in the loop as things…”  Oscar’s voice then trailed off a moment.  “Come to think of it…”

“What’s that?” Khloe asked across the ether.

“Well, we have reason to believe that one of Sir Kavanagh’s rogue templates may have washed up in Boston harbor.  I’d advise you guide his search in that direction by whatever indirect means you can.”

Before she could even acknowledge her uncle’s tip, Khloe felt his virtual attentions leave her.  Severing her ties to the wireless for a few moments of solitude, she cursed out loud and let fly the glass that she’d long since emptied.  It shattered against a wall, glassy fragments scattering the afternoon’s sunlight as they fell toward the grassy row that lined the room’s periphery.

“Bambukat son of a bitch,” she yelled.  The elder generation were a bunch of controlling morons, as far as she was concerned.  Khloe especially didn’t care for Oscar Cyr.  Still, maybe that was because, having lived within the American capitol most of her life, she’d been under his watchful jurisdiction for so long as she could remember.

Khloe made a mental note to tune out of the web before taking any more naps.  After digging amongst the ruins of her apartment for a towel, she jumped in the shower.  Given the oppressive afternoon heat, though, she turned the water up only as far as lukewarm.

Following this, she scrounged up the least wrinkled from among the clothing that lay thrown about in all directions.  With fabric being almost universally hydrophobic these days, they hardly ever needed any cleaning.  Ironing, on the other hand…

In no particular hurry, Khloe ordered out for chowder and bread, which took about half an hour to arrive by courier.  She’d come to be rather addicted to the stuff since arriving in Overjordan.  Though, until having seen it on the figment menus, she’d never have thought of crab and seaweed as viable ingredients.

Barely touching her food at first, Khloe took to engaging the shattered remnants of the glass with longer and longer stares.  She thought she could almost follow the myriad sharp rainbows in their slow passage along floor, wall, and ceiling.

Suddenly feeling her hunger, Khloe set about inhaling the rest before it got cold.  Oscar hadn’t specified where a hovercraft would be coming from, but the odds were that it would be from somewhere closer by.  The extended family had significant resources to call upon.

“Best get on with it,” she told herself before reaching out for the wireless once again.

Leaving her apartments, she turned down the hall counter-clockwise.  She hadn’t been stashed as close to either Haley or Bach as they had been to each other, but she still was not all that far way — ten minutes, at worst.  She actually took the opportunity to make a light jog of it, clearing the distance even quicker.

The sure-fire sign that Haley’s apartment was occupied stood guard at the door — that strangely malformed animated doll of a figment.

“Hey, Maple,” Khloe greeted it.  “I take it Archdruid Haley is at home?”

Maple nearly burst with enthusiasm at having someone to greet, unliving artificial intellect though it may possess.  “Aye, Lady Kalitzakis.  She is at home.”

“With Bach Kavanagh?”

“Quite.”

“Are they respectable?”  Khloe had to grin to herself in asking this.

“I don’t understand the question, Lady.”

“Of course you don’t,” Khloe returned through an even wider smile.  “May I go in?”

The figment avatar nodded vigorously before leaping into a mid-air somersault.  “The door is open!”  The being bounced aside, allowing Khloe direct access.  When she turned the strange old-school doorknob to enter, she found multiple faces already looking her way in anticipation.

“Hey Khloe,” greeted Haley from her precarious perch, balanced across two sharply tilted folding chairs.  She’d made no effort to stand before she inquired, “What can we do you for?”  

Khloe’s eyes went to Bach, who sat leaning forward across a small dining room table from Haley, hands dangling between his knees.  He looked tired, and hadn't so much as moved his head to inspect the newcomer.

“Hey guys,” Khloe shot back, wearing a well practiced smile.  There were other faces as well — Haley’s sister, whose name she could never quite remember, and that all too young looking Japanese girl.  Mitsie, or something like that.  Khloe took in a preparatory breath, and then let the words fly.  “I’ve actually come by to see if there’s something I can do for you.”

Haley shook her head as she rocked back and forth between those two chairs.  Khloe almost dared one of them to fold up under the too-cheerful woman, just because.  “We’re just discussing ideas… don’t have anything we particularly need.”

Hmm.  “Sorry,” Khloe amended.  “I should have put that another way.  It just so happens that I can offer you use of a aeroyacht.  You know… to go looking for some of Bach’s AWOL template cases.”

With that, Haley righted herself, though she still didn’t stand.  “That’s… that’s quite the offer.  As you may well have overheard, we keep getting shut down in committee.  That, and Overjordan’s native ships are all spoken for… even the Mayor’s for the next week, at least.”

Khloe nodded.  “Right, that’s why I thought of it.  My,” she began before pausing to choose her words carefully.  “My family has one and… well, I asked for it.  It’s not a completely selfless notion.  It’s not like our family business wouldn’t be getting a little free publicity should it make the news feeds that we helped out the grand city of Overjordan in a time of crisis.”

Haley barked out a laugh in unison with her sister.  “That’s a hell of a way to look at it,” she said with thoroughly good humor.  “Are you sure they won’t mind complete strangers making use of their terribly expensive vehicle?”  The Archdruid's eyes shone with interest, and that figment emerald of hers almost glowed.

“Oh no,” Khloe said with waving hands as well as spoken words.  “Actually, I mentioned Sir Kavanagh here, and my mother nearly fell over herself to offer the ship.”

Mother, mother, mother… Khloe repeated this to herself in thought, trying to commit the lie to long term memory.

“Ohhh,” Haley drawled out.  She grinned wickedly across at Bach who now looked, for all the world, as if he were deeply embarrassed.  Not one for being the center of attention, Khloe surmised.  “Well,” the Archdruid continued as she pushed herself up off her knees, “that would be of immense help, should we manage to track down a template or two.”  She closed the gap between herself and Khloe, sticking out an open hand.  “Thanks,” she said when Khloe mirrored the gesture.  

“It’s fine,” Khloe replied.  “And it’s not as if we’ll be just handing it over, anyways.  I need to get away from this place for a while, and it’ll almost certainly come with one of my cousins or uncles at the helm, and more by way of crew besides.”

“Of course,” Haley replied.  She let Khloe’s hand go, but remained close as her eyes went distant for a few moments.  Then she came to, as if just returned from a likely bout of contemplation.  “I suppose Bach will have to go along.”  Then she turned to her sister, “Once we have our quota of assembler nanites… I suppose we can just shunt the remaining soup back toward the recycler queue.”

The other woman nodded.  “That sounds well enough.  Production may be slowed a bit, and for a little while, but that way we won’t have to wait for Bach’s return.”  

Haley agreed, but Bach interjected.  “I can go down right now and leave the other recycler template unlatched, actually… pre-authorize a switch.  Then someone can just wander in when the time comes, pull one out, drop the other in, and snap the latch.  Unless there’s cause to go for a second assembler posse, that should be good until I return.”

Haley threw up both arms.  “Even better,” she declared.  “If that’ll work, then I suggest meeting back here closer to when we can leave.”  With that, she turned back toward Khloe.  “Do we know when it will arrive?  Your ship?”

Khloe could only shake her head.  “I don’t know where it was docked or who will be piloting.  I’m sure whoever it is will ping me when they are about an hour out.”

“That’s fine,” Haley returned.  “More than enough time, if we start packing now.”  She moved as if to start right then and there, but halted in mid-stride.  “Dammit,” she cursed.

Heads turned toward her, but it was the Japanese girl who asked in her thick accent, “What is the matter?”

“In my excitement,” the young Archdruid began, “I forgot about this evening’s obligations.”

Khloe had no idea what that entailed.  “Obligations?”

“Yes… damn mission oversight reviews.  World’s knocked on its side, but the reports must be in on time!”  Haley clenched her hands, but then let them go.  “It’s not something I can just hand off to Laney or Liam,” she related.  “My signature has to be on the commit.  I guess I won’t be going.  This is important enough not to be put off until tomorrow morning.”  After a moment’s pause, she added more.  “I’d still like to send someone besides Bach along.  A druid… Mitsu, actually.”  

In response, the Japanese girl nodded as if this were simply expected.  “Alright,” she said.

Haley turned back to Khloe.  “It must be a small ship, yes?”  Hovercraft, being as rare and expensive as they are, don’t often fall into private hands.  So it was a safe assumption that the druid woman had made.

Still, Khloe wouldn’t know for sure.  Jjee'en families, like hers, native to the Union-Atlantic seaboard were all exceptionally well-to-do.  Still, as far as organizatons go, they had not gotten this far by making a spectacle of themselves.

So, Khloe nodded her confirmation.  “Yeah, its not very big at all.  Maybe ten extra passengers when cramped.  Why?”

“Well, this would make for a good opportunity to make a small personnel exchange; take some volunteers to the mainland in exchange for folk who have or are now working for American Telepresence and may be better spending their time with us on this and other projects in the gulf.”

Bach then spoke up.  “I should also bring along the smaller cetacean husk, too… to get at difficult or dangerous to reach templates, depending on where they’ve ended up.”

“Naturally,” Khloe returned.  “Let me see if I can’t ping whoever it is that’s coming.”

No one objected or tried to interrupt, so she went to it — sending out a two ethereal pulses across the wireless.  One to appear legitimate, and the other more or less disguised within the echo of the first.  That one, the others should recognize.  While she waited, those of the rest in the room busied themselves cleaning up and gathering what belongings they had with them.

Before too long, there came the anticipated tug at the back of her mind.  She opened herself up to the figment whisper.  “I’m here,” she broadcast across the private channel.

“Hey brat,” returned a whisper.

Khloe nearly jumped out of her skin.  “Jason!”  It had been ages since she’d talked to him — a cousin her own age, and a childhood partner in crime.  “It’s been forever!”  

“Hasn’t it?” the voice returned.  He even sounded like himself, after all these years.  “I guess I’m coming to pick you up at the hero city, then?”

Khloe blinked.  “Hero city?”  

“Don’t you follow the news feeds?”

With some of the others looking more and more ready to be departing, Khloe felt compelled not to inquire too long.  “I guess I don’t, but nevermind that for now.  How big is your ship?  And how far out are you, for that matter?”

“It’s the ‘First August,’ if you remember… eight passenger.  And we only left Tumbledown port maybe ten minutes ago, so we’re at least two hours away at high cruise.”

Only eight?  He must mean comfortably.  “From Maine, huh?  What if we sardine the passengers and carry a half-ton husk?”  The others were all watching her now, ready to go.  “Make it quick, I’ve got potential passengers waiting on me.”  Khloe smiled to her living company, making a turning gesture with two of her finger indicating that the unheard voice on the other end was being overly talkative.

“Oh, we can squeeze double that, and weight isn’t really an issue with her special capacitors… if we aren’t going too far, that is.”

“How many with you?”

“Three, including me.”  

Khloe summoned up the math, too preoccupied even to count on her fingers.  Figures floated in her vision.  “Okay,” she broadcast via wireless whisper, “I’ll let you go then… warn me when you are within, I dunno, twenty minutes.”

“Will do,” returned Jason’s figment voice.  

“It’ll be nice to see you again,” she said before cutting him off.  Now, Khloe felt genuine excitement.  What had begun at first as a monotonous morning and an irritating afternoon had grown into the potential for a fun evening after all… perhaps her first since that fateful night.

With this, she turned to the others.  “I have word that if we are willing to squeeze in, we can fit myself, Bach and… um… Mitsie…”

“Hayato,” the Japanese girl cut her off.

Khloe blinked, “What?”

“My name is Hayato.”  The slender young woman looked almost cross with her.

“Okay,” Khloe acquiesced, not understanding at all.  “Anyhow, with us three, and the three that are coming, there will be room for ten other passengers and the husk if people are willing to share cots or sleep on the floors.”  After almost forgetting, she added, “Oh, and they think they’re about two hours out.”

Haley grinned as she nodded her approval.  “Also better than expected.  I guess that’ll have to be enough time to collect on a bulletin for volunteers for the mainland.  Can you handle that, Laney?”

The Archdruid’s sister indicated that she could.  “Native to anywhere in particular?”

“Boston!”  Khloe let the word slip without a first thought.  All eyes turned toward her questioningly.  She couldn’t exactly admit to what she knew, or from whom she’d heard it.  So, she fell back, instead, upon the obvious.  “Easily the worst hit metro,” she tried.

Haley thought about that for a second. “Seems appropriate to me,” she admitted.  “Laney, please narrow the request to volunteers native to the Boston region.”

“Alright,” Laney replied.  Following that, she departed without pause.

“I’ll get down to the city guts, then,” Bach announced, seeing his opportunity to leave as well.

“Right,” Haley returned.  “I’d suggest that you all meet up at the spire’s base.  There’s plenty of open grass there for a ship to make a custom landing.  I’ll make sure it’s allowed before they arrive.”  This she’d directed to all three who’d be going along.  “Mitsu, make sure to continue hashing out the prevention concepts with Bach while you two are away.  I think you’re picking up his technical aspects better than I am, anyways.  It’s just as well that you are going.”

Mitsu?  Hayato?  Khloe felt a brief wave of irritation wash over her.  Which name was which, and why did she have to call the young Japanese woman by a different one than did the Archdruid?

Oblivious to Khloe’s frustration, the slender girl half bobbed her head before bowing shallowly in assent.  “I will.”

“Thanks… and ping me frequently, the both of you.  Not only on any progress you make, but with any updates as to how long you’ll be abroad.  I understand it’s impossible to guess at the moment.”

“Yeah, there’s no telling where those cases may be by now,” Bach agreed.

“Aye,” Haley returned.  “Anyhow, I’ll see you two when I see you two.”

Bach nodded while ‘Mitsu’ bowed, and both headed for the door.  Khloe turned, intending to follow, but felt a hand grasp at her elbow, pulling her to a stop.  “A moment, if you will?” Haley asked.

Khloe wasn’t quite sure what to make of this.  “Yes?”

“How have you been?”

Again, Khloe was at a loss.  “I don’t understand.”  This Archdruid may be young and uncouth at times — from what Khloe’d seen of her thus far — and yet, she had a presence.  Khloe knew then that this other woman could get what she wanted from her subordinates without necessarily having to order them around.

And then, there were those eyes of hers; so light a brown as to be golden.  A strange color, and yet not altered by figments in any way.  She'd checked, and more than once, never quite believing what she saw.

“I’m sorry if I’m trespassing,” Haley began, “but I’ve had nightmares ever since that night, and the worst that happened to me was being pinned up against a wall by a strong funneling of ocean water.”

“You, on the other hand, were knocked unconscious, chilled senseless of the web, and stranded alone in the recesses of a shredded building that could have given way at any time.  And, all the while, you lay not twenty feet from a drowned soul.  I would imagine that you’re still getting over that if, here I am, still trying to throw a cloak over my comparably benign experience.”

So this is a pep talk?  “Yeah, I’ve had nightmares,” Khloe admitted.  “First few nights I couldn’t sleep at all.  Not so bad now, though.”

“Glad to hear that,” came Haley’s reply.  “I also noticed that you are rather… um… I wouldn’t know how to put it diplomatically, but I’ve noticed that you aren’t often, shall we say, ‘with us’ in the morning meetings.”  She said this, but with a warmth that took away any unintended sting of accusation from her words.

“Still tired,” Khloe replied, and not entirely lying, at that.  She didn’t feel particularly compelled to admit to her abject boredom at being stuck here in this mote of a city, however interesting a spectacle it might have been at first glance.

Haley just looked at her for a time with those wide and piercing amber eyes of hers.  “So you’re okay, then?  You’re sure?”

Khloe raised a hand as if to brush away any remaining issues.  “I’ll be fine.  I think half the reason that Sir Abraham put me out here was to keep me busy.  Though I don’t think that plan quite panned out.  I feel useless much of the time.”  So much for not admitting to anything.

“Ah,” Haley returned with a lopsided and knowing grin.  “Yes, see.  I thought I recognized that longing look in your eyes this morning during our meeting.  You’d just as soon be somewhere else.”

“I suppose,” Khloe said, rather surprised at the extent to which she was answering.  “Working for the Congressman means living in the Union capitol.”

“Busy place,” Haley observed.  “Certainly far busier than Overjordan.”

“Exactly.”

Haley shrugged, splaying each open palm upwards and to either side of her body.  “I both understand… and don’t.  My home town consists of maybe six thousand… well, before the tsunami that is.  To me, Overjordan feels immense.”

Khloe still wondered at the other woman’s motivations.  “I see.”  

“All I’m saying is — well, maybe I wasn’t saying it very well, but — Overjordan is well connected to the wireless at all times.  We have two separate layers of geosynchronous connection dedicated just to us.  You and Representative Abraham can drop in on our meetings virtually and without your having to act as his proxy.”

“Don’t get me wrong; you’re welcome here, and we’ll be glad to have you as long as you’d like to stay.  The Representative too, if he’d like.  In this time of turmoil, it would be all too easy for both our new and old missions in the gulf to be forgotten, and they must not be.”  She took in a breath.  “Sorry, I know I’m not the most concise of speakers.  Just know that if you want to return to the mainland, you can do that, too.”

“Alright.”  Khloe suppressed the sensation of being pushed aside, especially given that she’d only just admitted to missing her old haunts.  She controlled her voice carefully, and yet still managed to choke up on the first of her next words.  “Thanks for that.  I’ll certainly think about it.”

After a moment, there came more words.  “It might be just as well.  Sandy Abraham is stewing in his own juices without me helping him at every turn.  I might be able to do more for your fair city,” she added, laying it on thick, “from home, anyways.”

Haley smiled and clapped both of Khloe’s shoulders with her hands.  “I suspect that is almost certainly true.  I’m not trying to get rid of you,” she said, perhaps sensing some of what Khloe was feeling just then, “but it could mean one more refugee or Ay-Tee technician coming back and living with us here, if you did decide to stay behind.  God… it does sound like I’m trying to get rid of you, doesn’t it?”  

Khloe actually laughed at that.  “Just a little.”

“Well, please believe I don’t mean it that way.”

Khloe bobbed her head, and wiped at the subtle sting of salt gathering at the corner of one eye.  “Of course.  Anyhow… I never had a chance to bring much with me, but I do have some few things to pack before my cousin arrives with our ship.”

Haley grinned widely.  “Find room for a souvenir, yes?”

Khloe laughed once again.  This Archdruid might be worth befriending, after all.

“One last thing,” the other woman added when Khloe once again moved for the door leading out.

“Hmm?”

“Don't hesitate to send us a bill for the use of your ship.”