Chapter Sixty-Five - A Final Delay
“Train departs at oh nine hundred,” the man behind the counter said. He pointed off to the side, past the rows of benches where people were already waiting with luggage, and to a large ornate clock mounted on the side of a lamp-post. I read the current time as just past ten. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” I repeated.
“And these people?” I asked, a gesture of a thumb over my shoulder pointing to all the folk waiting.
“They have tickets for the eleven o’clock train to Cinderwich.”
“Which is not now,” I said. “Why can’t I board that one?”
“The seats aboard the train have been filled, and we require three hours of prior warning, at the very least, in order to load a mecha onboard a train.”
“A train which hasn’t arrived at the station yet?” I asked. “A train that you can’t board anything on until it’s physically here.”
“That’s correct, yes.” The bastard had the temerity to look smug about refusing me.
I worked my jaw, and decided not to take a swing at him. He was just some schmuck low on the pole with delusions of power. “Fine,” I said. “Give me a ticket for the train tomorrow morning. When do I need to show up to have my mech boarded properly?”
The man nodded and picked out a few forms which he slid my way. The price wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. More than it would cost in cores to walk over, but not by that much. The lack of maintenance needed for the distance would cover part of it too.
I paid immediately, then filled out the forms as quickly as I could. The fidiot on the other side made me fix a few small things, but I got everything done and ready in a few minutes.
“Thank you for your patronage,” he said as I walked off.
I held back on showing him a few gestures I’d learned from some nomads.
Clin was waiting for me outside of the terminal, leaning against Rusty’s leg with a book open in one hand before him. He glanced up as I neared. “I’m not terribly experienced in reading human expressions, but I recognize that one as displeased,” he said.
I frowned at me. “You think? The next train we can take leaves in the morning. Tomorrow morning.”
“Well, that’s disappointing,” Clin said. “At least we’ll be able to see if that letter in the newspaper will have any sort of impact.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Now what?”
“We have the coin to stick around for a while,” Clin said. “We could return to the inn, sit back and enjoy a good meal, do a bit of light reading?”
“Just relax?” I asked. It didn’t sound like a terrible idea, but it wasn’t something I was keen on doing. I was always the sort to be doing something. Lazing around wasn’t something a normal family could afford living around the Vastness, so I’d never been raised to see spare time as good time.
Still, I was a grown woman; I could enjoy a few luxuries here and there. That was a little different to just sitting back and doing nothing.
“I suppose I could go to the baths,” I said.
“A city like this should have some public baths,” Clin said.
“Public baths?” I asked.
The elf looked at me, one eyebrow perking up. “You’re unfamiliar with the concept?”
“Just the public part. What kind of fool would want to ruin a perfectly nice bath by introducing one of the worst things in the world in it—people.”
Clin chuffed a laugh. “I suppose. They’re common enough in my homeland. A great place for socializing. The social rules are at once more strict and more relaxed.”
I grabbed onto the edge of Rusty’s frame and made to climb up. “What, no staring at each other’s junk?”
Clin sputtered while I hoisted myself up. When he climbed in after me, it was with a face tinged red. “I meant,” he said, “that people of different social classes will often mix together, and the rules in that regard are not as strict within a bathhouse. Though they do tend to be separate anyway. The rich usually live near each other, and so on.”
“Mmhmm,” I hummed. I kicked Rusty on and tugged the front shut. A whole day with nothing to do. I figured I’d either go mad, or enjoy it too much. Maybe I could find myself a beau to spend the evening with.
I looked at Clin, considering.
“Is something the matter?” the elf asked after a while.
Nah, better not. Business and pleasure and all that. “Nothing,” I said as I had Rusty rise to his full height. We stomped back across half the city. Not to the inn we’d used the night prior, but to a slightly nicer one, nearer the better parts of the city within the inner walls.
I wasn’t in the mood for a bar fight, but a nice drink wouldn’t be bad.
I parked Rusty, and soon enough Clin and I shuffled into the inn. The place had air-sealed doors that kept out most of the stink from the city, and they had incense or something burning besides.
An older man was playing a mournful tune on an accordion in a corner. He didn’t have much of an audience.
The bar was unmanned until I rang a bell, then some subservient fellow showed up and spent more time bowing and scraping than asking us what we wanted.
I picked up an entire bottle of some cheaper whiskey, and made my way upstairs where I had to wait for someone to bring a couple of buckets of scalding-hot water up a lift. I watched them fill the bath, then shooed them off.
I sank into the water with a sigh, the bottle of scotch in one hand, my feet on the edge.
Everything became warm and floaty as I let the water do its thing and wrinkle me up.
“Gods, I love baths,” I said as I took a deep tug from my bottle. It wasn’t the best-tasting drink I’d ever had, but there was something to be said about the right environment improving the taste of things.
I dunked myself down, washed my hair free of sand and grime. They had little glass bottles with nice smelling soaps and shampoos within. I didn’t care if they wanted to charge me more later, I was dumping them all into the bath.
Then I found a loofa.
I was just starting to really enjoy myself when I heard a siren going off in the distance.
“You have got to be--” I debated staying in place and letting the world go to hell, but that wasn’t clever, and not being clever was a fast way to end up being dead. I stood out of the water and dried off, then stumbled into my pants and boots. I left the room while shrugging my jacket on and buckling my belt.
Clin met me at the bottom of the stairs. “False alarm, I think,” he said.
I stopped. “Are you serious?” I asked. Water was still dripping down my hair and the small of my back.
The elf nodded. “Way I heard it, someone clever set off an alarm.”
“The city-wide storm alarm,” the innkeeper said, a derogatory lilt to his words. “Idiot was rambling about an invasion.”
I looked at Clin, and we shared a whole book’s worth in a glance.
Someone else was trying to warn folk, and they were ignoring it all the same.
“I’m getting my whiskey back,” I said as I turned and headed back up. Screw this entire city, I figured.