Author note: So apparently it's been six months since I posted the last chapter of this? Deity, guys, I'm so sorry... Hope you enjoy! Currently I'm going through the delightful chaos that is Fresher's Week. Bwahaha.
Chapter Fifteen – Ripples in the Pond
A yelp sounded behind Jonathan as they disembarked the freighter, and he turned in time to have the brown haired woman – Titalia, Jacobyte had said her name was, strange thing – from earlier stumble into him. His arms went out to catch her, managing to stop the fall before her face hit the rough grille of the ramp.
Titalia tried to breathe. "F-fine. Thanks."
"...you going to put me back up anytime soon?"
Jonathan grinned and set her upright. To his mild confusion, she backed away several steps. "You alright?" he asked again.
And she kept backing up. Back into the ship and out of sight. Jonathan frowned.
"Playing nicely?" said Jacobyte, appearing beside him and eyeing the ship's airlock.
Jonathan turned to him and grinned. "Always."
"Right then. Come on. The harridan's already gone ahead."
"I don't like her," said Jonathan, swinging his bag over his shoulder and following after Jacobyte.
"You don't like a lot of people," Jacobyte soothed. He dodged sideways out of the path of a man running toward them wearing thick goggles and a mesh helmet. Jonathan did the same. They stared after him. "You going to tell me you don't like him either?"
"I don't know who he is! How can I judge someone that quickly?"
"Darling, it's a skill of yours."
Jonathan chewed his lip, turned and kept walking. "Fine."
"I didn't like him. The helmet and the goggles clashed."
Castern dumped a key card in their hands and slammed her door shut again. "You're down the hall and you've got ten minutes before we're moving again, so don't get comfy," came her muffled instruction.
Jacobyte and Jonathan blinked at each other. Blinked at the key card. Blinked at each other again.
"That's just weird," Jacobyte eventually managed.
Jonathan tilted his head, as if somehow, from a different angle, the key card wouldn't proclaim the numbers one, zero and one.
"That's just weird."
Jonathan rapped on Castern's door. Her head appeared and she scowled at them. "Ten minutes, I said."
"You want to swap rooms?"
The door slammed shut. Again.
"I'll take that as a no?"
"Come on, John-boy. Room 101 awaits."
"You're doing nothing for my confidence here..."
A woman in the group of dithering archaeologists glanced up, eyes shrouded by the dirty blonde fringe that extended from underneath her cap, and she groaned. "Not you lot."
Castern's eyebrow raised slightly. "You are Sandra Ducamp, yes?"
"That's Professor Ducamp to you, Agency louse." Sandra glanced behind Castern to where Jacobyte and Jonathan were trying not to smirk. Flicked her eyes back to Castern. "What can I do for you?"
"You were contacted by—"
"Yes, yes." Sandra waved a hand. "Do you know how much your little organisation has set us back? The trouble you've caused across the field?"
"If you have a point, Professor, you might like to reach it some time soon." Castern smiled, no warmth to the twitch of her lips whatsoever. "Preferably before I contact my superiors and have the funding for your project pulled."
In a forced tone, Sandra repeated, "What can I do for you?"
"As I said, you were contacted by my Agency. We need a guide."
Sandra nodded, mulling this over. "Round the corner. Second building on the left. Tourist trails are every hour." She flashed a saccharine smile and began to walk back to the group. "Excuse me, I have work to do."
Behind Castern, Jonathan tiptoed a little and whispered in Jacobyte's ear, "I think I can see her dye job twitching."
Castern whirled. "Captain."
Jonathan sank back to the flat of his feet, expression carefully blank.
"We need her as a guide. Regrettably, she's the best whacko out here. See to it."
Jacobyte inclined his head a little.
"Professor Ducamp?" Jacobyte finally tracked the woman down, about an hour later, sorting through catalogues and boxes in the loading area of this particular site's space port.
"Oh for— Look, I told that ginger-nut earlier. I'm not going to help."
Jacobyte smiled easily. "Yeah, me and my partner don't like her either."
Sandra frowned, a glimmer of amusement peeking out from under her cap. "And you would be?"
"Captain Jacobyte Hasphane." He extended a hand. Sandra gave it a firm squeeze and then went back to her cataloguing, keeping one eye on Jacobyte.
"We were wondering, you know," she said, once it became obvious that Jacobyte was politely waiting for her to finish before he'd speak. "How long it would take before the temporal gold diggers got here."
Jacobyte chuckled. "And there aren't gold diggers and opportunists here already? All the biological and pharmaceutical industries looking for new compounds, out in the rainforest. New drugs for a hungry market. You're telling me you're here researching the past without profit in mind?"
"Then I salute you, Professor. Integrity like that's hard to come by, these days."
Sandra looked up again. "Did you actually just salute me?"
"It would appear so."
And Sandra laughed. "Drop the chit chat, Captain," she said, smiling. "What are you here for?"
"Can't I be here for the inane chit chat? I like the chit chat. There's no pressure."
A weary sounding sigh. "Captain—"
Jacobyte grinned. "Sandra."
She rolled her eyes.
"We need a guide." Jacobyte nodded to the circumference of trees, thinned out in this sector, but thicker and more dense as civilisation petered out into the dense jungle that was Makkihn-Aweh. "Out there."
"You've said. And I told you where the tourists go."
"Ah, but we're not tourists."
"No, you're greedy. Here for your own profit."
"Mm," said Jacobyte, his eyebrows raising slightly. "Chit chat's good, isn't it?"
"I'm not going to help you, Captain."
"Oh, you are."
"I can see it in your eyes. You gave in five minutes ago."
"Did I indeed?"
"Either that or you want to ask me out for a drink."
"You are quite incredibly full of yourself, Captain."
"Is that a no?"
"Is that a yes?"
"I'll pick you up later."
He saluted again, this time with a sly wink thrown in for good measure, and Sandra waved her hands to shoo him away.
Jacobyte left with a grin. Jonathan was waiting for him around the corner. "You think you're some big ol' space-age Casanova, don't you?"
"You love it."
Jonathan tilted his head. Nope. No way to argue with that. Jacobyte looped an arm around Jonathan's waist and started to lead them away from the small space port. They found a seating area nearby, overlooking the port, bought some of the food from a vendor and sat to eat and people watch.
After five years with a glass shielded view of the outside world, people watching was a hard habit to break.
The next freighter landed just as Jacobyte and Jonathan were finishing their pastry-and-meat creations, and they tossed the paper wrappers aside and walked to lean over the railing's edge, watching passengers disembark and goods, artefacts and samples get loaded.
"Hey," said Jonathan, pointing. "The weird couple from the freighter."
Jacobyte followed Jonathan's finger and tilted his head. "They leaving so soon?"
"Don't think..." A pause as a woman appeared off the freighter, caught sight of Titalia and Innesiris waiting and ran down the ramp to hug them. The three jumped in a circle, elated and high pitched as only reunited females could be. "So," Jonathan finished. "Heh."
"Bit more heavy duty than the other two, isn't she?"
"Kitted for travel..."
"Hmm," said Jonathan. "As opposed to?"
"Well, that one," said Jacobyte, nodding his head to Titalia. "Highly impractical wardrobe choices, there. Swish, but impractical."
"You might just have out-gayed yourself there, dear."
Jacobyte snorted. "And her." Another nod, this time to the purple haired Innesiris. "She appears to be carrying a library in her bag."
"And... your bag wasn't full to the brim with books when we travelled around?"
A sniff. "Not that many."
The trio below separated and began to walk away from the port, arms linked and mouths chattering. Titalia glanced up, caught sight of Jacobyte and Jonathan watching and hissed something to the other two.
"They're looking this way," said Jonathan.
"We're being pointed at," he added. Because this obviously changed the situation. "And talked about."
Jacobyte looked at him sideways. "And that's somehow different from what we're doing, to them?"
"Wow, they're really going for it..."
"What do we do?"
"We could wave?"
"Could do, yeah..."
Jacobyte and Jonathan waved. The new woman, even at this distance they could tell, arched an eyebrow. Titalia waved back and then stopped at a mutter from Innesiris. The trio walked up the slow incline of a hill from the port and eventually arrived in the seating area where Jacobyte and Jonathan stood.
Titalia waved again, a jittery little motion. Innesiris sighed. The third woman just looked amused, then thoughtful, eyes running over Jacobyte and Jonathan.
"Huh," she said. "You're shorter in real life."
Titalia swatted her, and there was a muffled squeak as the woman tackled Titalia to the floor. Then tickling ensued. Innesiris took a careful step to the left. "Don't mind them."
Jonathan was tilting his head at the flailing women. "Mm?"
"Jacobyte," said Jacobyte, extending his hand.
Innesiris shook it. "Innie. You met Titalia." She gestured behind her. "That's Katerine."
A hand waved from floor level.
Jonathan blinked away and back to Innesiris. "So, you three are..."
The flailing paused, and Innesiris said, carefully, "We three are what?"
"She wishes," muttered Katerine.
Innesiris whirled, tartan boots stomping. "Oi!"
"I'm saying nothing," said Titalia.
"Hey! Don't look at me. She's the one that said it."
"Yeah," continued Innesiris, "but you were thinking it..."
Titalia looked bewildered for all of three seconds before Katerine started tickling her again. Innesiris turned her attention back to Jacobyte and Jonathan, who were quite enjoying the free show, if they were honest. She eyed Jacobyte. "Kind of sparkly, aren't you?"
Jacobyte frowned slightly, though the smile didn't drop. "I beg your pardon?"
"No, you don't. You don't beg anyone's pardon."
"... have you been drinking?"
"Hm? Oh. No."
"Maybe you should..."
Innesiris shrugged, then laughed at Jonathan's expression, which had perked at the mention of drinks. Behind her, Titalia and Katerine broke apart, panted, and eyed each other warily. Then they got to their feet, one chipper and one grumbling.
"If that's your idea of an invitation," said Katerine, "you..." She paused. Frowned.
"Need better ideas?" Titalia put in, the glower on her face twitching away into amusement.
Katerine sighed. "Something along those lines, yes."
"We ought to be going," Innesiris said, firmly linking her hands with those of her companions. Titalia looked a little startled. "Things to do, people to not see, that sort of thing." Katerine developed a faint frown, at this, looking between the four of them.
Jacobyte and Jonathan settled back into bemusement. It seemed best. Jacobyte gave a little nod, and Jonathan a half-hearted leer.
Once the trio were gone, Jonathan turned to Jacobyte squinting against the dulled sunlight.
"What strange people," he said.
Jacobyte snorted. "Says you."
A shrug. Closely followed by a grin.
Jacobyte quirked an eyebrow. "Wasn't that funny."
"S'not what I'm smiling about."
"What are you smiling about, then?"
"Ducamp says yes."
"How could you possibly know that?"
"She's standing behind you."
Sandra's eyes creased in amusement. "Captain."
"Professor." Jacobyte was totally in charge of the situation. Oh yes. Uh. "My partner, Lieutenant Holster," he said, gesturing from him to Sandra.
"Ma'am," said Jonathan, tugging his forelock.
Sandra's eyes creased a little more. She tucked an escaping strand of blonde back up under her cap and gave a little acknowledging nod. "Lieutenant." Turned her attention back to Jacobyte. "Your partner is correct, sad to say."
"Sad?" Jacobyte cocked his head to the side. Smiled easily.
"Yep," said Sandra, seemingly unimpressed.
Jonathan grinned again.
"So if you can track down that... what was her name again?"
"Call her Castern. That's all we got out of her anyway."
"Castern. Right. If you can track her down, I'll be able to take you out within the hour. Nothing much important to do today."
"Except dig stuff up?" Jonathan offered, a twinkle in his eye.
"Except dig 'stuff' up," Sandra flatly agreed, "yes." She adjusted her cap. "Come to the main compound entrance when you're ready."
Jacobyte and Jonathan watched her go with mildly raised eyebrows in one case, and a grin in the other.
Jonathan turned away. "I'm really starting to like her..."
"Oh yeah? And why's that?"
"She ain't impressed by you."
Jacobyte eyed the back of Jonathan's head. Tagged after him. "Stop smirking."
Jonathan beamed to the world, or foggy jungle, if you wanted to be accurate, at large. "Shan't."