LOCALE // Smith's Rest, New Anchorage
TIME // Afternoon
LOCALE // Smith's Rest, New Anchorage
TIME // Afternoon
Eli waited outside the convention center by a back door, colder in the formal fatigues than she would have been in her usual attire. Her neck, so accustomed to a scarf’s protection, almost stung with chill, and she could feel every minute turn of the wind pass through her scalp and down her spine. Were she a woman of less composure she might have huddled by the wall, but no, her instructions were otherwise. She was told to wait, and she would.
Eventually her mother emerged from the doorway, as equally unfit for the weather as she, but just as unshaken by it.
“Elizabeth,” she greeted, and glanced around. “I see your sister is as good at following directions as ever.”
Eli frowned, she hadn’t known Vera was supposed to join her. “She’s probably gone to the canteen with the others. I can get her if you–”
“Hm? Oh, no no, it isn’t a big deal, you’re heading there anyway.”
“Not back in with you?”
Her mother cocked a brow, and Eli turned her head down. It was not time for questions.
“I would go myself, but I’m due back inside. Besides, I’ve less of a place in there than you.”
“You do?” Eli asked, despite herself. Mother was the Elect, she had more place anywhere in New Anchorage than anyone. Eli however could count on one hand the number of times she’d set foot in a bar.
But mother nodded, sure, and so Eli became sure as well. “You should pay closer attention to your peers, Elizabeth. Tell me, how do you think that little show went? Be honest.”
As if she could be anything but, Eli answered just so. “Poorly.”
Mother nodded again. “Quite poorly. To be frank, it couldn’t have gone any other way. It wasn’t long ago you were fighting yourselves in that little facility of Graham’s, one can only wonder how much longer it will be until the next catastrophe.”
“You’re worried about the other pilots.”
“So are you, you said as much back there–very well done, by the way. There were only so many questions they could ask, but I was worried how you’d adapt. You didn’t disappoint.”
There were few things Eli had done in her life to elicit such praise from her mother. It was either a thing she did not know what to do with, or an event to which she had no reaction. Nonetheless, her stomach lightened, and for a moment the air didn’t feel so cold.
“As strong as New Anchorage is growing, and as fortunate as we are to be standing through the hardships it’s endured, our NC program is nothing shy of a time bomb, and no one–not even Graham–can see the clock.” For the first time, mother seemed to notice the cold. She cleared her throat. “No one had fun on that stage, but it was well past time to introduce a little accountability. If that means the pilots don’t like me, so be it–they don’t have to. I think I’ve gotten as far as I can with them for now, anyway. You’re my eyes and ears in there, Elizabeth, you and Vera both. They all probably suspect as much, so you’ll have your work cut out for you convincing them otherwise.”
There was a knock on the door, mother knocked back, but had not quite finished. She put a hand on Eli’s shoulder, and for a moment Eli felt every last thread in her body pull tight in terror. “It’s easy to feel powerful when you’ve got big weapons in your pocket, but never forget who really controls New Anchorage.”
“The people,” Eli answered, this time sure on her own.
“Yes,” mother said coldly. “The people.”
With that Eli was left alone, and she wondered, briefly, when she would see her mother again. Soon enough though the wind kicked up, and she shuddered like a glacier ready to collapse before shuffling off.
Smith’s Rest – Convention Center, Canteen
When she stepped inside, Eli was very quickly warm again. The little hovel was sparsely populated, her comrades took up a good chunk of space, and the rest seemed not to care much, either for lack of interest or lack of senses.
Speaking of, it was impossible to miss the small collection of pilots at the counter as she made her way there. In part for her due to Vera’s presence there, but also, mainly, because she could hear Percy from the door. Not that she could really make out what he was saying. Like there was a third eye in the back of her head, Vera turned around, spotted her, and they exchanged a smile and wave. They’d talk later, when things were more calm. In the meantime, she veered away from them, and hailed the barkeep at the far end of the counter.
“Well hello, miss Jackspar, come to take it easy with the rest of your team?”
“Seems like the right idea,” she said, with a glance over at the others.
The barkeep hesitantly nodded. “Maybe not quite as easy as some of them, yeah? So what’ll you have?”
He snorted. “Water? After that? Got water in big fluffy piles right outside if that’s all you want.”
“It’s cold outside. How much?”
“Shit, not gonna charge you running the tap for a few seconds,” he said, and filled a glass just so before handing it over. “At least I don’t have to cut you off.”
As he went off to go about his business, Eli surveyed the bar around her. Vera, Harrison Kane, Ryn and Percy seemed otherwise engaged, and even if she wanted to involve herself in that mess she had a feeling she would not be much welcomed. One prospect did seem promising though, a lone pilot off in the corner, drinking to himself–she hoped not to the extent Percy had.
It was Fouren, she realized, a pilot she’d engaged with little since his arrival. His interview hadn’t been the worst of the bunch, but all the same she was confident his was not a celebratory drink. The waster was an interesting addition, if not a caution-inducing one. She had no doubts he felt alien in New Anchorage, and rightly so, no large part of the crowd seemed satisfied with his answers, herself included. New Anchorage had trusted outsiders with more promise before, and been hurt for it. It was hard for her to look at him and not see the threat he could pose to her home. Hard, but she’d try.
As she approached his table, her mother’s words stuck with her. It would be a challenge gaining the trust of many of her comrades, a many-faced challenge full of obstacles she had no experience with. It would be hard. She would try.
“Alan,” she said as she rounded up to the opposite side of the table. Every lesson about people that her mother had taught her, and especially those that Vera had taught her, rose to the forefront of her mind. She needed to be personable, she needed to be approachable, understanding, amicable. She wondered if her mother knew these words beyond mere definition.
Taking a seat, she put her drink on the table and tried her best to get a read on his face. How welcome was she here? Was he willing to talk? Was he drunk? Perhaps he’d look at her and see only her mother, perhaps that’s what everyone saw. Simply the challenge, she told herself.
“Is this spot taken?” she asked, a formality she knew didn’t mean much considering she was already seated. So she opted to move the potential conversation forward. “How are you doing? After the questions, I mean.”