"... the duck..." Eddie muttered, stirring as he slept. His head lay on Ruby's shoulder.
He'd fallen asleep a few minutes ago, flopping into her side, and Ruby had sat stiffly, uncertain if she should wake him. She was trapped in the back seat of the flying car between Eddie and Basha, and if she moved away from Eddie now, she'd only press up closer to the former king.
Eddie stirred. He rubbed his eye for a moment, then stiffened. He jolted upright, not looking at her.
"Uh, sorry," he said.
"It's okay," Ruby said.
"How long was I..."
"Only a couple minutes. Don't worry about it."
"You said something about a duck."
"Did I?" He turned to her. She gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile. He grimaced and looked away.
Is that embarrassment or regret? she wondered. Eddie had acted so strangely around her since they'd met the night before, avoiding eye contact and mumbling under his breath. She knew he was distraught over everything he'd learned, but he seemed to be especially distant with her. Was it shyness or something else?
"Damn, it's cold," Bryce said from the front seat. "And is anyone getting light headed?"
Master Farook sat next to him. He had a translation earpiece now, as did Bryce. He nodded, gazing out the windshield.
"It will get worse the higher we go," Ruby said.
"And you spent more than a day up here?" Bryce asked. "You must have been miserable. Why didn't you pass out?"
"Things will be better when we reach the top."
"I don't see how."
The flying car circled ever upwards around the mountain pinnacle that poked up through the clouds.
"Huh. I can't believe this thing flies," Bryce said for the dozenth time.
"I'm surprised it can get this high," Eddie said.
"Yeah, well my car breaks all the rules. I bet we could take this thing into space."
"I doubt we'd survive."
Ruby clasped her hands together, wishing Basha would quit grinning at her. She turned away, only to face another uncomfortable glance from Eddie.
Eddie pulled his phone out of his pocket and stared down at it. Ruby had caught him looking before. He read and re-read a text message he'd received from someone named Winnie.
Kai is with me. I'll keep her safe
"Who is Kai?" Ruby asked.
Eddie turned his phone away so she couldn't read it. "Oh, uh, it's a girl that Bryce and I have been traveling with. I mentioned her once."
"Oh, yeah. The little girl you rescued from jail."
"I'd been searching for her all night. Then I got this message. I don't know what to make of it."
"Well, who is Winnie?"
Eddie sighed. "Winnie is a mystery." He scrolled through all the texts he'd received. "I think Winnie is a 'he', but I can't be sure. He started texting a few weeks ago. He told me I had to keep Tim close in the city if I wanted to survive. But then Tim turned out to be an evil god. I don't think I trust Winnie.
He scrolled up to the top message.
You are one and I am two. Then I am one and you are two.
Ruby pointed at it. "What does that mean?"
"Holy shit," Bryce exclaimed. "Is that it?"
Ruby leaned forward. Ahead lay the grass-topped peak of the pinnacle, the observatory at its center.
"Wow," Eddie said.
Bryce landed the car on the lawn. As he opened the door, a wave of warm air rushed in. "Nice," he said.
They climbed out. Ruby stretched her arms, happy to be out of the confined space. She pulled her coat pocket open. "We're here. It's safe."
Skylar pulled herself up to the top of the pocket, peered out and darted into the air. She buzzed around in broadening circles.
" Tast badri ib trenstin? " Farook asked in Starrik, pointing. Ruby's earpiece provided the translation. " She is in this building? "
Ruby nodded. "I'll go in first and tell them you're here."
As she approached the front door, she wondered why Hera and Kevin weren't running out to meet them. They must have heard the car. Was something wrong? By the time Ruby reached the door, she feared Kevin and Hera were gone. She knocked once and threw the door open. "Hera! Kevin!"
She heard a cry of alarm. It came from the bedroom. Hera was in trouble. Ruby ran for the bedroom, readying for a fight.
Hera stopped her at the door. She held a bedsheet to cover herself, holding out an arm to stop Ruby. "Wait—stop," she said in Starrik.
"Are you okay?" Ruby asked. She repeated the question in Starrik. She leaned to peer over Hera's shoulder. Kevin stood looking guilty. He was naked, holding a pillow to cover himself.
"Oh," Ruby said. "Oh." She backed away, and Hera slammed the bedroom door shut.
Farook and Bryce ran into the observatory. "What's wrong," Bryce said. "I heard shouting."
"It's..." Ruby turned red, retreating. She sat on the couch. "She'll be out in a minute."
Basha came in next, nodding to Ruby when he spotted her. Eddie followed, glaring at the back of Basha's head. Basha dropped on the couch next to Ruby. "This is a cool hideout, I've got to admit. You think they'll let me stay here?"
"I don't know."
"Does this place have internet access?" Basha pulled a small tablet from his back pocket. "I'll die without it. What's the password?"
"I don't know."
"What are we waiting for?" Bryce asked.
The bedroom door flew open, and Hera rushed out, her clothing disheveled. Farook stood at attention and bowed to her. "Miss Hera, I am glad to find you in good health."
"Uh, yeah," she said. "Master Farook, you're okay."
"But... it's just... I saw the city on fire last night. I watched it burn, and the sky lit up and I thought... I thought it was the end of the world. I cried for an hour and Kevin... and I..." She broke off. She looked over the newcomers and stopped on Basha. "What is he doing here?" she asked, pointing.
Basha stood up and nodded to her. "Uh, hello."
Hera's face grew pale. "He had my father killed," she whispered. "He's a murderer."
Basha put up his hands. "No. No, that wasn't me."
"And now you bring him here?"
"Miss Hera," Farook said. "It's not what it looks like. Basha here was not involved in your father's death." He glanced at Basha with slight disdain. "Not directly, anyway. He's here because most of Cavaheim's population want him hanged."
"Really? Sounds good."
She shook her head and sighed. "I don't understand what's going on."
Ruby stood, put an arm around Hera's shoulder and guided her to the couch. "We'll explain everything."