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"Bring us right along side, Shipman Eva."
"Begging the captain's pardon, I really don't think that's a great idea. Sir."
"Aw, we'll be fine. We just saw Rose, er, I mean, the Egregore's captain, leap out of the ship in full diving gear and plunge into the ocean below. We know she's the only crew, so we're perfectly safe."
"@Rose Nomenclature doesn't seem like the kind of captain to just leave her barn door open. Sir."
"If you'll excuse the expression. Sir."
"Well, I just want to get close."
"To her SHIP. Bring us alongside, Shipman Ev------"
"Six spring loaded grappling arms, sir. Proximity trigger. They're holding us tight. No telling how deep they're dug in. We'll need to take a look before we try to pull away."
"If this is what we got for just getting close, captain, I wouldn't suggesting trying to get any closer. To her ship. Sir."
"... Aye aye, Shipman Eva."
"Keep your distance, Shipman Eva."
"But not too far. We need to beat it to the docks."
"But make sure it doesn't swing out and hit us with a fin or something."
"AYE AYE captain!"
The Fossilized Fish Skeleton wasn't fossilized any more. Or a skeleton. It was a gigantic prehistoric armor-plated fish-shaped killing machine, bigger than the buildings in downtown Destiny City. It was using its huge rigged flippers like feet, flopping and hurling itself towards the bay, smashing the office parks and museums on its way, knocking over the occasional Shining Spire with its great spiky tail, scooping up rooftop bars and penthouse apartments in its massive jaws.
The denizens of Destiny City screamed and ran for cover.
"Somebody must have gotten it wet. Do you know anything about that?" @Rose Nomenclature asked.
I imagined there must be bits of Le Bullfrog still remaining on the body of the giant creature. Being as the tiny fossil was inside him when it exploded into life.
"Uh... oh hey look, isn't that your ship?"
The Egregore was just ahead, anchored to a mooring mast in the blimpyards below.
"How do you know what my ship looks like?"
"Uh... time to drop the visiting captain off at her ship, Shipman Eva. We'll need to make it a quick stop."
Fossilized Fish Skeleton, the placard read.
"Not just any fossilized fish skeleton," said the bookseller's tinny voice in my ear. "Perhaps the most voracious of all the fossilized mouths of yesterday on display here at the Voracious Mouths of Yesterday exhibit!"
I pushed up the googles so I could see better. The fossil sat on a little white display table, maybe 4 inches long. Small.
"It's small," I said.
Le Bullfrog leaned in next to me for a better look. His clammy brow stuck out between his scarf and hat. Sweaty. Big googley eyes.
"Ah, but look closely!" said the bookseller, still coming in loud and clear through the goggles. "Look at it through the goggles."
I slipped the goggles back down over my eyes and began to twiddle with the tiny knobs and levers. I was starting to get the feel for its various settings. Suddenly the head of the fossilized fish skeleton zoomed into close-up like it was about to devour me with its gigantic rows of razor sharp teeth, row after row after row...
"Argh!!!!!!" I cried, pulling the glasses off.
"Put the glasses back on," whispered the bookseller.
"You see," continued the bookseller, "the incredible detail, fractal-like. Almost too much even for the goggles. This voracious mouth was once far, far, bigger. Time and desiccation have forced it smaller and smaller through the years, compacting all that antediluvian ferocity into a smaller and smaller package. Still quite dangerous through. And priceless."
"It's not even under glass. How do they keep it safe?"
"Turn small dial number 2 counter-clockwise for two clicks, then move the spiral knob in and out."
Suddenly I could see a maze of pink laser beams around the table, and a shimmering translucent shell over the fossil. A forcefield.
"Now," continued the bookseller, "continue moving the spiral knob, but with your left hand, toggle top lever number four."
I followed his instructions. The lasers and forcefield suddenly winked off.
"And that's how you disarm the system," said the bookseller.
Still wearing the goggles, I turned to Le Bullfrog. Everything happened in slow motion. He pulled down his scarf and exposed a huge, gaping, unhinged mouth. A thick slimy tongue, as thick as your arm, shot out, landed on the fossilized fish skeleton, and hurled itself back into Le Bullfrog's mouth, which clamped shut, and displayed the revolting, horrible undulation of a giant adam's apple as he swallowed.
Then, he opened his mouth again.
"B U R R R R R P."
Le Bullfrog was making the crew uneasy.
"Sir. The passenger is making the crew uneasy."
"What's the problem, Shipman Eva? I mean, I know he's kinda sweaty..."
"He lurks. Sir."
Shipman Eva had me there.
"But hey! Destiny City! You always wanted to go, right? They've got great museums...."
"Sir, could we request that the passenger remain confined to his quarters?"
Shipman Eva was putting me in a kind of bind. Le Bullfrog agreed to a fare. Well, that's what the bookseller said. Er, implied. But there was no up front payment, so we'll need to collect it on arrival. Which was much more successful with a happy client, and not one who'd been confined to quarters.
I had to think fast.
"Shipman Eva..." I took a look up and down the promenade to make sure no one else was listening. "I can only tell you that our passenger is VERY important, and paying us a VERY tidy sum for this trip, so I'm afraid we're just going to have to live with it."
Shipman Eva took her leave.
I wish I knew who Le Bullfrog was. And why he was making us all so uneasy. And IF we're going to get paid.
And what happened to @Rose Nomenclature?
Nobody tells me anything these days.
"Shhhhhhh! Keep your head down! Here she comes!"
The voice of the bookseller hissed in my ear through the glasses.
We were camped out in a coffee shop across the street from large, clean industrial park. Ornate iron fences, palm trees. The crew was relieved that it appeared I was drumming up some much needed work.
@Rose Nomenclature walks out the gates, negotiates with a bicycle taxi, hops in, and leaves.
With the glasses I can follow her special signature through the traffic, and see beyond what's visible with the naked eye. Today it's like a stream of green percentage signs. %%%%%%%%%
I move to hail a taxi of my own.
"Not so fast, captain."
"It's time to pick up some work. Turn around."
There on the sidewalk is a stout round log of a man, wrapped in a wide trenchcoat and a scarf and a hat. And sweaty, as the weather doesn't call for all those clothes.
"Captain Sabab, meet Le Bullfrog."
Where exactly is @Rose Nomenclature headed? You’d think she thought somebody was tailing her, and in this case she’d be right.
Then again, she seems like the type who’d take those precautions as a matter of course, delving into the malevolently shady as she regularly does. And with these goofy brass goggles on, I can track her and still make sure we stay well beyond her line of sight, so she can’t know we’re following her, right? But what if she’s possessed of an eldritch sight, enhanced by some haunted mirror or some other nightmarish antique she picked up? What if it’s all a trap?
"What? Who said that?"
I open up my pea coat and look at the goggles.
"Did you just speak to me?"
"Put the goggles on. Then move the right outside lever to 7, the inside dial to Y, then put your left forefinger on the circle with the half moon on the top."
It was the bookseller. Speaking through the glasses.
"Hey, you didn't tell me they had shortwave. How do I know if the microphone's turned on? Have you been spying on me?"
"Just take a look," he says through the tiny speakers.
So, right outside lever to 7, inside dial to Y, and my finger on the circle with the half moon on the top.
The nightscape of clouds turns into a neon explosion of pinks and greens, massive bodies of feathered serpents surging by endlessly with no heads or tails, evil-eyed tornado babies tucked into cliff sides of thunderheads. The path of the pixie dust trail leads safely through it.
"Looks like your'e good," says the tinny voice of the bookseller.
The crew of the Matte Kudasai didn't sign up to be spies. Or stalkers.
Sure, it takes a little bit of detective work to be a good junk dealer. Some of it's instinct, but some of it is doing your homework and a little bit of research. A deep fictional knowledge of rare and haunted artifacts doesn't hurt either.
But using a pair of suped-up brasswork googles powered by arcane technology I don't understand to follow another junk dealer across the skies and report on their whereabouts... that's new. And slightly unsavory. However the money is right, and even if I have to keep this side-mission secret from the crew, it's one I've got to take. For all our sake.
With the glasses on, peering out into the night off the observation deck, I can see a trail of sparkly pixie dust leading through the clouds. Somehow these glasses can see the path the "The Traits, Features, Characteristics, Peculiarities, Mannerisms, Qualities, and Attributes of the Hymergian Man-Fungus" with fold-out illustrations intact has taken as it passes through the atmosphere. No doubt still on the Egregore, in the hands of @Rose Nomenclature herself.
"Uh, excuse me, Captain?"
Ooooooooph! I almost fumble the googles off the deck tearing them off my face and hiding them under my pea coat.
"YESssssck?" my voice cracks. "Ahem, yes Shipman Eva?"
"Helm just wanted to double check on our heading... it seems we're headed a bit off the map."
"Uh, yes shipman. It's a hot tip I got back at the bookfaire."
"In Old Habitsform."
"Yes shipman. Are my orders unclear?"
"You know, there's a collectible cards and comics fair there now. A lot of us were thinking maybe it'd be smart to drop by..."
"I'm afraid this is a hot lead, shipman. Steady as she goes."
"Aye aye, Captain."
Dinner at the Rotting Worm Book Faire in Old Habitsform is exquisite. Those bookseller types have a taste for fine food and wine. You just have to know the right ones.
In my case, I only knew one. Good thing he didn't want to drink alone.
"I expected you'd be using the money you realized from the sale on dinner with Captain Nomenclature?" He used the weird fake French pronunciation again. I tried to use it when I introduced myself but fumbled it badly.
"Oh, I make it a policy never to mix business and pleasure as far as clients are concerned."
"Clients? But she bought the book from you. That makes you the client."
"Well, yes. Me included."
We twirl the wine in our glasses.
"Yes, you could use the glasses to track the book."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"The additional pair of glasses I am giving you. The ones with the knobs."
"To track the book?"
"Yes, to follow the "The Traits, Features, Characteristics, Peculiarities, Mannerisms, Qualities, and Attributes of the Hymergian Man-Fungus," with fold-out illustrations intact."
"Uh.. whu... why would I want to do that?"
"Because I have a job for you."
@Rose Nomenclature @Egregore
I’d forgotten what a shifty bunch rare book dealers are. Especially the even more shady ones that would be interested in a tome like "The Traits, Features, Characteristics, Peculiarities, Mannerisms, Qualities, and Attributes of the Hymergian Man-Fungus," with fold-out illustrations intact. It takes me all morning till I find one I think I can trust.
“No, no! Don’t fold it out! You haven’t been looking at it directly, have you? Here, put these on.”
He hands me a pair of riveted copper googles, bristling with levers and switches, and puts on a pair himself.
“Now it’s safe. A fair number of this type of illustration were illuminated with subliminal self-replicating patterns. Flip THAT switch and it filters them out.”
“What do the rest the switches do?”
“Oh all kinds of things. And you can mix and match to create a crazy number of hybrid effects.”
I’m fiddling with the dials and levers when someone walks past the store window. They have towering antlers and a soft gold glow. I flip the goggles up and see it’s a young woman, no antlers, but wears her jacket in a way that marks her as an airshipman. She’s beautiful.
“Any idea who that is?”
“That would be Captain Nomenclature. Of the Egregore. A hunter for hire, a reseller, a mercantilist like yourself. She might have interest in your book. Me, I don’t have the proper facilities for keeping such a thing around.”
The Rotting Worm Book Faire in Old Habitsform may be paying off in unexpected ways.
Capt. Billy Sabab
Master of Garbology
The best combination of proximity and the cargo we have is the Rotting Worm Book Faire in Old Habitsform. It's the perfect place to take "The Traits, Features, Characteristics, Peculiarities, Mannerisms, Qualities, and Attributes of the Hymergian Man-Fungus," and I'm sure I'll know at least a couple of the rare book dealers in attendance. Though horrible to behold, the illustrated fold out pages are intact! Just imagine the intrinsic value!
Stopping at random garage and estate sales on the way as we spot them.
Capt. Billy Sabab
Master of Garbology