The Orange Cream
Aboard the ship, a bell rings. A low chime – friendly, and without urgency. There is a meeting, and the crew should gather, but there is no rush.
Get yourself in order. Put your tools away. Tidy up your workspace – then go to the lounge. That is what the bell says.
In the lounge waits the ship’s commander.
A woman in her thirties. Short and stocky – dressed in army green. Sturdy boots and combat fatigues. Knitted sweater and infantry cap.
A daughter of the north. Eyes of blue and steel. Tattooed vines climb her neck, across her right cheek, and disappear into her hair – long blonde dreads tied back in a bundle. A small silver ring pierces her lower lip on the left side of her mouth.
A holy warrior. Claimed by her god to do his bidding in the world.
It is she who called the meeting, and she likes to be there when her crew comes in.
Toini Elsikulta Riveniemi, Paladin of Ek. Commander of the Orange Cream.
If you call her by her middle name, she’ll break you.
– – –
One by one, her crew drops in – fighters, scientists, engineers. Humans, most of them. Two elves. Two dwarves. One fylk. Another elf, and a plain old regular ship’s cat, and it was really there before the commander herself, sleeping on the shelf above the radiator.
Soon enough, a ship’s crew is gathered. Seats are found. Conversations die down. A meeting can begin.
– – –
Toini drew herself up and cleared her throat. “Good morning everyone.”
Her crew nodded or mumbled their greetings back, acknowledging they were there, that they’d heard her.
“I’ve got a few things this morning.” She paused and surveyed the room to make sure she had everyone’s attention. “First of all: I have a quest.”
For a moment, everything was still. No one said a word. Anticipation filled the room.
Their commander hadn’t had a quest in a long time – months. She’d still kept them busy. Church always had something that needed doing that she could get behind, but nothing like a god-given quest.
When her god spoke to her, their commander would drop anything she was doing – anything – and set off across the world to fulfill her calling. It’s what she lived for, her reason to exist, what kept her going. In many cases, it’s why they followed her.
And now, it was time again.
“This is a simple one, and it should be quick,” said Toini.
The tension in the room sagged. They’d been waiting for something meaningful to do. Waiting, and hoping. Someone sighed.
“None of that.” Toini scowled and snapped her fingers, demanding attention. “It’s still important.”
“I need to go to Kul Viller to meet a new member for the crew. Time is a factor, so I will go by train. Raoul will be coming with me. The rest of you will come with the ship.”
“Ned.” Toini turned to the ships’s captain. “Kul Viller should take about a five days from here, right?”
Ned nodded. Short and scrawny. Full beard, knitted sweater and a skipper’s hat. “Aye, boss. Five days, give or take, depending on wind and customs.”
“Good. You will handle customs yourself. I will not have the time to set things up for smooth passage for you.”
“Roger that, boss.” Ned touched a finger to his forehead in some kind of salute.
Toini nodded back. She paused for a moment, and then drew herself up again. “Second: this will be Raoul’s last mission with us.”
Silence clamped down on the room.
Toini studied her crew. No one looked at Raoul – not directly. Furtive glances shot his way, where he stood over by the door. Tall and dark and handsome – just the right kind of unshaven. Dark suit, white shirt, no tie.
The odd one out. The man who didn’t fit.
Here and there, Toini spotted the odd smug grin, but not many, and those she saw disappeared fast. Her crew may not be fond of her chronicler, but they were good enough not to let it show – much.
“We’ve talked it over, me and Raoul, and we’ve agreed it’s the best solution. If anyone has any questions about this, please address them to me in private.”
She turned to Raoul and nodded.
Her chronicler said nothing, and after a moment he nodded back.
Toini cleared her throat and addressed the room again. “After we’ve picked up our new addition in Kul Viller we’ll head directly for Knysvian. Once there Raoul will sign off and we’ll be assigned a new chronicler. I expect this to take at least one week, but probably more.”
She sighed, and then a small grin appeared on her face. “During this time I’m unlikely to be needing any of you for anything in particular, and you’re free to spend the week as you wish.” The grin bloomed into a full blown smile. “Try not to embarrass me too much.”
Grins and chuckles swept through the group. Someone elbowed the person next to them. Someone punched another’s shoulder. It was all good. The kind of reaction she’d expected.
They needed a bit of time off. Too long with boring missions that didn’t mean anything. It kept her in good standing with Church, but it wasn’t what her crew had signed on for. They were hers, all but Raoul, and they wanted to help her with the quests her god gave her – not unrelated assignments provided by a faceless clerical bureaucracy.
A bit of vacation would do them good, and then some proper work to get back into the swing of things.
Toini snapped her fingers, calling the meeting to order again. “Ned, Kul Viller to Knysvian will be about two weeks, right?” She looked at her captain.
Ned shrugged. “At the very best. Probably more like three at this time of year. It’s a long flight against prevailing wind.”
“Hmpf…” Toini scowled. “Very well then. You heard the captain. Five days to Kul Viller. Three weeks to Knysvian. Should be smooth sailing, and then one week vacation for the lot of you.” Her face stern she let her gaze sweep over her crew. “Questions?”
“I have a question.” Mareetha, ship mechanic and engineer, raised her hand. A big woman, probably in her mid fifties – not that anyone would ask – dressed in blue coveralls and a checkered flannel shirt. Brown hair. “I wonder… Can you tell us anything about this person you’re meeting in Kul Viller?”
Toini lowered her eyes. Of course someone would ask. She’d been more surprised if no one did. “No. I can’t.” She sighed, and then she faced her crew again. “But, to answer the question you’re all asking: yes, he’s a close combat specialist and will be taking over Lorang’s old job.”
Lorang was dead. Killed in her service. Bad stuff. Two other members of her crew had lost their trust in her and left because of it. The rest of them would stay, but a death on the team always caused a lot of strain.
“Boss.” Mareetha scowled at her. “There’s something you’re not telling us.”
Toini nodded. “Yes.” She nodded again. “Yes, there is.”
Mareetha crossed her arms over her chest. “Uhu…”
“It’s not important. He’ll probably tell you himself when you meet him.” They had to trust her. She couldn’t go telling them personal things for no good reason. It wouldn’t be like her. They’d think she was losing faith in them.
“Oooh…” Mareetha raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips. “Interesting…”
“Enough!” Toini snapped her fingers, and her face grew beet red. So much for being calm and collected.
She cleared her throat and took a deep breath to compose herself. “If no one has any other questions the meeting is over. Raoul, get packed. We leave in an hour. Ned, make sure the ship is fully refueled and restocked. We will not be staying in Kul Viller longer than absolutely necessary.”