Periods of wakefulness from Visely had been becoming more frequent for days but this was by far the longest gap in his comatose state so far. He'd even been able to hold steady conversation over the last hour since he'd coughed and spluttered himself awake. His colour was slightly less improved than Margo would have liked - he was still a sort of pale teal - but she put it down to the strain of talking, which was so encouraging that she daren't tell him to rest.
"How's the captain?" Visely asked after a short lull in the conversation.
Margo frowned and readjusted his pillow while she considered how to answer. Was Chip's sullenness so obvious that even the bedbound could see it?
"He came in to check on sickbay earlier today," Visely explained, "His knuckles were almost literally dragging on the floor."
At least he was on his feet, out of his bunk, Margo thought.
"He's had a hard week," she said.
"Yes," Visely murmured. His prongued snake-tongue dragged the 's' out into a sighing hiss that was probably far more sinister than he'd intended. He'd told her once about the first time he'd ever spoken to a human. The human had stared at him, straight into his eyes, then the human's eyes had rolled up into his head and he'd toppled over backwards onto the concrete zoo path. He'd been okay, Visely had assured her, but the old snake hadn't been able keep a chuckle out of his voice as he remembered the image.
"So now that our temperatures are roughly back to normal," Visely said, shifting to settle down onto the fluffed up pillow, "Where are we headed?"
"I'm not sure," Margo admitted, "Nothing's come through from Earth. I mean, very little ever does, but recently they’ve been particularly quiet."
She refrained from adding what troublesome little document had come through, though Visely's wan smile was tempting her to unload her troubles on him. She was very close to doing so, in fact, when her comms hub beeped.
Yo, Margo, come in! Officer McCaw, the toucan, squawked.
Hey, Gerry. Margo couldn't help herself from grinning at the sound of his voice. Trust McCaw to cheer you up when everything was just piling up.
Guess what we've got! said McCaw.
What? asked Margo. She took a few steps from Visely, who obligingly shut his eyes and drifted back off to sleep. She didn't try to stop him; after an hour, he deserved it.
Margo could hear the grin in his voice over the hub. If she'd had hands like Chip, she'd have rubbed them together. Finally, something to distract themselves with! Not everyone had seriously ill snakes to take care of. Most of the crew had been sitting around twiddling its thumbs, and less opposable digits, for the week since the climate scare.
Where're we headed then? she asked.
Ever heard of a planet called Aeralis?
She frowned for a moment then replied, Nope. What's it like?
Well, my groundbound friend, prepare to feel woefully inadequate!
What are you on about, Gerry? Margo shook her head and went back over to Visely to check his vitals. If he was only faking sleep, it didn't really matter. He'd hear these orders soon enough.
Oh, you'll see. McCaw chuckled. You'll all see! And maybe I'll get to be under some decently high ceilings for a change!
Huh? Margo muttered. She craned her head in an attempt to look at the comms hub that was hooked under her chin. No reply came, though. McCaw had tapped out. She shrugged. As he said, she would see. Until then, she had plenty more patients to attend to. She murmured a goodbye to Visely in case he actually was still awake, then drifted off around the rest of the ward. No matter what technology came up with, and no matter what chaos they were surrounded by, crew members always found time for the flu, stomach bugs and the occasional case of appendicitis.
About an hour later, Margo had been fully briefed on the situation, if you could call McCaw's rambling smugness a briefing. He kept flapping about - literally - and giggling with glee. In all of his mutterings, however, it became clear that the problem affecting this planet was a drastic fluctuation in its gravitational field.
What made this issue all the more deadly, however, was that every living being on the planet, including even certain species of plants, had the innate ability to fly. They didn't even need wings. The high ceilings McCaw had cackled about over the hub had been those of literally every building on the planet, which had to accommodate their inhabitants floating and gliding all over the place.
"And Earth want us to do what exactly?" Treego Dart raised an eye-ridge at McCaw. "Shouldn't we be focussing on figuring out how the heck Lezeki managed to … do whatever it was he did that caused that mayhem? You know, before he manages to kill anyone else?"
All eyes shot towards Chip, who was curled over a steel desk at the back of the room. There were desks laid out in four rows from the front to the back of the room, with three desks in each row, and two chairs at each desk. Margo was sat beside Treego and hoped the sympathetic smile she was giving Chip would do something to counteract the icy glare he was getting from him. Treego had barely spoken to Chip for the past week or so, which was very unsettling. She’d never seen them apart for so long before.
"They want us to investigate the problem," Chip said, looking straight at McCaw, who had perched on the front edge of the briefing podium. "There's been no sign of Lezeki since he flew off in a rage after Ochon ... foiled his plan."
There were some grumbles at the mention of Ochon, especially from the desk directly behind Margo, where the Bug Division's representatives were pacing anxiously back and forth along the edge. Neither of them were spiders though, so they probably hadn't known Ochon personally. They stayed quiet.
"And these people are in quite immediate danger," McCaw added. "They're flying up and around, as you do ... well, as some of us do-" he giggled again - "But because the gravity's all off, they're going between floating away uncontrollably to plummeting to the ground in seconds. The report I got said most life forms are moving in short, sharp bursts of flight, kind of like the way Officer Dart hops around the place."
"I do not hop!" Dart glared at McCaw, then added, "I leap."
"Sure," said McCaw, "We'll change your codename to Leapfrog, whatever. Come on, we have to go! Please, guys, I'm sick of banging my head all the time."
"I thought you said nobody was able to fly properly at the moment," said Margo. Animals were already pulling out their chairs, flying off the desks, or scuttling down the table legs. They would do their duty. And floating off into space did not sound like fun, even if you weren't being terrorized by an angry, bitter wasp who may or may not have kidnapped/recruited your captain's sister.
"I did say that," McCaw admitted, "Let's go fix it then, shall we?"