Announcement: The Bridge is being turned into a novella. Don’t worry, I’ll still post it here.  However, I need five beta readers to help me out.  If you want to read the story early before anyone else, apply below.

Part 15

The council met in secret, just before midnight when the rest of the ship was asleep.

Elliot had returned with Hannah, and hey took their seats at the far side of the table, their hands clasped together.  Of our class, they had been the first to marry, and often I forgot their relation during council meetings. The head doctor, Disci, sat across from them with his apprentice at his right side, who had delivered each of us the messages to attend.

“Everybody but Segni,”  Disci had told him, just after a heavily rationed dinner consisting of uncooked vegetables due to the low numbers of chefs on hand, “This must be a secret from him, for the good of the ship.  He must not know.”

So his apprentice delivered the message to each of us, and we waited until the bustling of the halls turned to silence before stealing away, careful not to make noise ourselves.

“It is evident,” Said Elliot, his voice low from his side of the table, “That the condition of the ship has reached a dire low.  Do we have body counts?”

“None from the gardeners,” I said, “Some minor injuries, but the doctors have already seen to those.  The soil broke most of their falls.”

“Four burns from the kitchens,”  said Hanna, “Six deep lacerations from knives.  The rest is manageable.  As you know, nearly everyone in there was injured in some fashion or another.”

“And the porters?”  Asked Elliott, turning to Disci.

“We saved who we could, and cleaned out the heavy room as best we could, but not all the stains could be removed.  But of the original porters, I would say only ten percent are fit to work, thirty percent injured, and ten more percent crippled for the long term.  And the rest- you know the rest.”

“I do,”  Said Elliot, somber, “With the blight in the fields, this could not have come at a worse time.  Already we are short staffed just to provide food and herbs.  Horatius, we need both of those, can you provide them?”

I frowned as he mentioned the blight, then responded, “Yes, I can.  If we can do away with the feast, we can devote half of the gardens to herbs and the other half to high yielding crops as opposed to strawberries.  As I said to Segni, four weeks for each, assuming that nothing changes.”

“The feast is cancelled,”  Hissed Elliot, “Damn the feast.  There is no such time for such trivialities.  Priority number one is those herbs, Horatius.”

“Agreed,” I answered, “But what about when Segni intervenes?”

“Prepare a feast for one,”  Responded Elliott, “It will be enough to suffice, and with the rest of the council on your side, he should listen to the majorities. Damn strawberries, in a time like this.”

“Done.  But now, we need to speak about a more important issue.”

“Yes, yes we do,” Murmured Disci and turned to the window, the rest of our eyes following.

Outside, the other half of the ship had turned, righting itself to be perfectly parallel with our end.  Its flank was illuminated by a strobing white light that emanated from just behind the corner of the window, where the two halves of the ship came together. Only a few hours ago it had originated, too bright to look directly into and mimicking the color of stars far away, accompanied by a hissing and a vibration that I could feel through my shoes.

“What caused this?”  Disci whispered, “And why now?  Do you think they know that this is our weakest moment?  Do you think they did it on purpose, as a strike against us?”

“Why should they?”  Elliot answered, arms folded across his chest, “The Hand of God struck hundreds of years ago.  If this was an act of aggression, then it makes no sense why they would have waited this long to perform it.  Besides, we were once one people before the Hand of God split us, and if the stories are to be true, we lived in even greater peace back then than we enjoy now. They’re probably just like us.”

“Probably,”  Said the head doctor, but his eyes narrowed.

“Probably,”  I repeated, but continued staring across, to where the gaunt faces scattered throughout the distant windows stared back.  Where there was the occasional flash of blue light,  and where I had seen the glinting of brandished cooking knives in the past.

“That being said,”  Said Elliott slowly, “We can never be too careful.  Where the ship is coming together, where it is joining, has anyone actually been there?”

“I have,”  I responded, and the other faces turned towards me, their eyebrows raised, and I quickly shut my mouth.  The control room was just underneath and three minutes walk to where the halves were coming together, close enough that Pliny had shown me the door that had once lead to the other half.

“Here,”  Pliny had said, pointing to the door that was wide as two men, with frost encrusted around its edges, “Here is where the ships used to connect.  In fact, it was the only spot where they connected, the logic being if one side of the ship contracted disease or underwent disaster it could be sealed off.  Based upon our current situation, I suppose the logic was sound.”

He traced the outline of the frame with his index finger, feeling the crease between door and wall.  I remembered studying the door, a solid metal slab with handholds inlaid near the center, though there was no knob or opening mechanisms.  The metal was smooth, so smooth I could see my own reflection peering back at me in it, almost as though another version of me was waiting right behind the door.  All except for the center, where a single word had been scratched into the metal between the handholds, chiseled with a heart dug into material around it.

Necti

“Necti?”  I remember having asked, “What’s that?”

“Likely some form of graffiti, committed far from where the rest of the ship would see to avoid punishment.  To be honest, I don’t know, but it’s been here since I was first shown the door.”

And above, where the top of the door reached the ceiling, something else was written.  Something small, that I had to stand back to see on my tip toes, and had to squint to read.

Seperate we fly.  Together we land.

Back in the council room, Elliot snapped his fingers, bringing my attention back to the meeting.

“Horatius, pay attention.  Why in the hand of god have you been there?”  He asked, tilting his head slightly.

“There, ah, I had to fetch ice when I was a porter,”  I lied, keeping my voice steady, “Tom strained himself in the heavy room, and he claimed his mother always said ice was a remedy.  But the ice grows too thin on this end of the ship, where hardly any frost forms on the walls, and a decent sized piece is difficult to find.  So I had to travel deep within the ship, all the way to the back.”

“And?  What did you see?”

“There’s only one entrance, and the door can be shut,”  I answered, “But there is no lock, so it will need to be held in place, if need be.”

“Alright,”  Said Elliot, “Here’s the plan then.  Together, we will go to greet them, assuming this door actually does open.  None of us will go to their side of the ship unless they trade with of their own people, and it will remain that way until we are absolutely certain that it is safe.  Unless there are objections, myself and Disci will be the spokesmen to negotiate peace and give an impression of strength.  Horatius, prepare a small basket of a variety of crops to present as a token of our goodwill. We’ll want the remaining porters there as well, in case we have to force the door shut.”

“I’ll have it ready by tomorrow morning.  According to the voice, we should expect the door to open around noon.  Plus I can lead you there.”

“Good,”  Said Elliot, and smiled, “Now see, that’s how you have a council meeting.  Without this feast nonsense that’s not going to happen anyways.”

“Not for you it won’t,” Shouted a voice from the door, and the council jumped, turning to see Segni with his finger pointed at Elliot.  His face was flushed bright red, spittle flying from his mouth with each words, his eyes so wide that the blood vessels were visible among the white. Nean and Tom stood at attention behind him, accompanied by two other porters, all with kitchen knives. And his younger brother at waited at his side, his own stomach starting to approach the size of Segni’s, such that both could not fit within the entrance at the same time.

“You traitor!  You dare plan a mutiny, you dare defy me as you chief?”

“How, how did you find out about this?”  Stammered Elliot, his face turning white,”No, your honor, we-”

“Lies!  Lies and flattery.  Nean, Tom, take him and lock him in one of the unused apartments, no food for three days so he can experience the food shortage first hand!  His wife too!  And I knew because you invited my brother, my own flesh and blood, to betray me as well!”

“We what?”  Exclaimed the head doctor, turning his head to his apprentice.

“You said everyone but Segni!”  He squeaked, “His brother is the historian, and on the council, so-”

“Here, he admits it!”  Shouted Segni, “I want them both locked away as well!”

“Segni, you can’t do this!”  I shouted, as Nean lead the porters into the room, seizing the accused, “We have to prepare to meet the others, to set our first impression!”

“And as chief, I obviously would be most suitable for the job.  Who else would they desire to meet, besides the leader?”

“You don’t understand, Segni, it could be dangerous.  We don’t know anything about them. We don’t know what they’ll do.”

“You’re right, Horatius.  Which is why you’ll be there, right by my side, to make sure that that nothing happens.  You said you knew the way to the door, and tomorrow you will lead me to it.”

Part 16

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  • Be a grammar Nazi
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