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Episode 13 Part 3

By:  Lenady

“This’ll do.”


Tilly nodded, staring at the one story motel in front of them. There were plenty of words she could use to describe it: old, dilapidated, probably roach-infested. Cheap was another. If this didn’t fit in their budget nothing would.


She stayed rooted in place as Sanrook walked off to what she assumed was the lobby, studying the exterior of the building and ignoring the low rumble in the distance, the way the wind picked up her hair, blowing it around her face, and the small prickling twinges of fear that both were causing.


The building looked past its prime, even in this somewhat more rundown part of the city. She could imagine it being pretty though, at one point. Not like some of the other hotels they had passed along the road, new and sleek and grand, of course, but then, she realized, even this place had been new at some point. Never sleek of course, the architectural styles were completely different, this having a more boxy appearance, all sharp lines and jutting edges, made for convenience, not luxury. Nor could it have ever been grand, for the same reason. But at some point in time, she imagined, it had been fresh and clean and welcoming. At one time the windows would have been clear and pristine, not clouded and dingy, and the paint would have appeared vibrant and full of life, not garish and flaking. Tilly frowned at the specks of blue on the sidewalk and tried not to think about what sort of toxins she was going to be breathing in that night.


“How many hotels have bare bulbs in their lobby?”


“Huh?” Tilly turned from the building to face Sanrook. She was smiling and for a moment Tilly thought nothing of it, until she saw the tension on Sanrook’s face, the way the smile was pulled too tight, a smile hiding razor sharp teeth, and Tilly found herself wondering what sort of reception she had received at the check in desk.


"Let's just say this place isn't winning any awards for decor," Sanrook said, casting a glance back to the office, "or anything for that matter.  But," she continued, flipping out a card and holding it up between two fingers, "it has a roof."


Tilly raised an eyebrow and looked up at the building. "We haven't seen the room yet, don't jinx us," she said, then shrugged. "But even if it didn't, at least it would be a windbreak. So, which of these monstrosities is ours anyway"


Sanrook looked down at the card and looked back up, scanning the doors for a moment before pointing. "Over there," she said, already walking towards a door a few feet away from where they stood. "Unless one of the numbers' dropped off."


Tilly stared at the symbols on the doors, taking in the twists and curls and understanding nothing. Her first instinct had been to look at the door numbers and see if the pattern was correct, but she'd remembered, with a lurch in her stomach, that, without the communicator or Sanrook's glasses, she was completely illiterate on Deseva. As if to emphasize her unease, thunder rumbled above, louder and closer than before. She looked back up at the sky, at the chaotic dark clouds overhead, gray and black and a sickening yellow-brown all at the same time, and sharply sucked in a breath as it lit up with a near blinding flash. She stumbled back and around, nearly tripping over her own feet as she spun to face the door.


Sanrook glanced up from where she was fighting with the locking mechanism on the door, which was refusing to read the card, and Tilly threw on a quick smile, full of teeth and completely fake but (hopefully) enough to draw attention away from the stiffness in her shoulders and her breathing, coming in to hard and fast despite how hard she fought it, and keep Sanrook's obliviousness intact for a while longer. She never found out if it worked or not, because after a few seconds the lock released with a click, drawing their attention back towards the door.


Tilly stepped forward as Sanrook pushed the door open and flipped on the light. The smell hit her first, causing her to pause in the doorway. Musty could have described it, but that was only one layer of several, stacked on top of scents she couldn't even begin to describe, alien dirt and grime that she couldn't even begin to identify. What finally, mercifully, pulled her away from the strange odors was Sanrook’s sudden laughter. She was standing just inside the room, holding her stomach and pointing up at something on the ceiling. Tilly's eyes followed Sanrook's gesturing hand and she frowned.




Sanrook chuckled loudly as she walked across the room towards the bathroom, looking up the large mirror directly above the bed. "I see we have the honeymoon suite."


"Ugh," Tilly said, "I'm gonna pretend I never saw that."


"Hey at least you don't have to sanitize your bed.  Think they have bleach somewhere here?”


"At least you can sanitize your bed," Tilly replied, looking down at the bedspread and wondering how many diseases they'd be able to find if they took a sample. "And I don't know? Maybe? I mean, even if they don't get used very often," because, in all honesty, Tilly would have bet that the place hadn't seen cleaning supplies in over a year, "They'd still need to have some on hand, right? For appearances sake, or just in case."


"In case of what? A dead body?" Sanrook yelled from the bathroom, over the sound of metal on metal and scrunching plastic.


Tilly squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her forehead, trying desperately not to associate any of the unknown scents in the room with the words decaying, murder, or corpse. "I don't know. Random health inspections."


"Do they even do that for hotels?" Sanrook popped out from behind the bathroom door, shower curtain in hand.


"How should I know? And what are you doing to the- no, never mind," She stopped herself, waving her hand dismissively, "I probably don't want to know."


Sanrook shrugged and dropped the shower curtain on the floor, before walking across the room and out the door, in search of cleaning supplies, Tilly assumed.


Tilly sighed and looked around the room. It wouldn't be so bad, she decided. It did have a roof at least, although, judging from the dark spot on the ceiling near the window and the matching one in the carpet below, the state of said roof might have left something to be desired. It was a fairly typical cheap hotel room. Granted, the plug-ins looked weird and the light fixtures were blue and blocky, which totally clashed with the yellow-green carpet (but considering the state of the room who knew what the original colors were) and all the writing was in that peculiar curvy script, but aside from that she wouldn't have been surprised to see the room in any tourist destination on earth: large glass window with a heavy drape, and basic furniture, bed, side table, chair, nightstand with drawer (if she weren't so afraid of what she might find she might have opened it to see what sort of things intergalactic Gideons left in hotels in space), and a dented dresser against one wall, on which sat a television, with odd, for her image of space at least, metal points.


"Rabbit ears?" She said, bewildered, walking over to examine it. She stood in front of the dresser for a minute, simply staring at it in disbelief. Rabbit ears. And not even a set of newer ones either. The ones in front of her looked downright archaic, with- Tilly blinked, was that tin foil? At least, it occurred to her, the TV looked relatively new, in that it used buttons and not knobs, but when she turned it on the picture was all snowy static which seemed to remain no matter what direction she turned the antennae.


A loud clatter suddenly filled the space as Sanrook rolled a cart into the room, parking it in front of the bathroom. “Found the maid’s cart. Robust woman. Might want to wheel it away somewhere before she gets to us. Just saying.”


"Sanrook, what’s with this?"


“What’s with what?” Sanrook asked while digging through the contents of the cart.


“The TV has rabbit ears.”


“The better to pick up signal with my dear.” Sanrook replied, in her best granny who’s actually a wolf voice.


“Yeah, I know that. I just figured things would be a little more,” Tilly paused a moment, looking for the right words and coming up empty, “I don’t know, high tech or something. I wasn’t expecting to see rabbit ears and sponge mops and swords. That last one really has me. Swords? Well, sword, since it’s just been the one guy, but still.”


“Some stuff’s more advanced, but not everywhere. Like on earth you’ve got rich places and poor places. Isn’t any different out here. The sword thing’s a little different though.” Sanrook pulled on her glasses and held up a bottle for a minute before looking back to the cart and pulling out a scrub brush and gloves. “You know in sci-fi movies the guys wear armor but the weapons still burn right through it?”


Tilly nodded, realizing a second too late that Sanrook, who had just walked into the bathroom with her stash wouldn’t be able to see her. “Yeah”.


“Well, think about it. What could that do to the hull of a ship? Now think what would happen if you’ve got a bunch of guys doing that and follow the logic. They’re fail-safes of course, if something’s happening on one part of the ship other parts can be closed off, but really it’s just easier to use different types of weapons.”


Tilly walked over to the window and looked out the dingy glass. The wind was starting to pick up, tossing bits of garbage down the road. Her stomach clenched and she pulled the curtain shut swiftly. Out of site out of mind. “So that’s where the swords come in.”


“Yeah. It kind of came out of piracy too. I mean who wants to burn a whole bunch of holes in a ship they’re trying to take over.”


“But that doesn’t make sense.” Tilly replied moving over to the bed and ripping the blanket off before she had time to think about what she was touching. “I mean, I figured there’d be better alloys by now-" She stopped for a second, blinking, then started again. “I mean, out there-here, out here”.


“There are. And with stronger ships come stronger weapons to break those stronger ships. There’s always going to be an arms race.”


“Ah,” Tilly said, staring down at her hands. She could almost feel the microscopic ickiness crawling around on them.


“Still, swords are mostly used on ships, not planet-side. That guy was just weird.”


Before Tilly could comment, thunder cracked, loud enough to shake the windows, and she dropped to the floor with a squeak. It occurred to her that the floor was probably dirtier than the bed was, but somehow that didn’t bother her. For some unexplainable reason sitting beside the bed, with it between her and the window, felt much safer than sitting on it, microscopic bacteria be damned.


She sat there for close to an hour, minus the amount of time it took to crawl over to where she had set her bag and crawl back. She had thought about trying to get the TV to work, but that would involve messing with two pointy metal pieces, which went against her survival instincts. Instead she turned it off, to get rid of the harsh static noise, regretting the decision after a moment, when she realized that it was, to a small degree,  covering up the sound of the rain (and maybe hail, because she couldn’t remember rain being that loud and sharp sounding) hitting the roof.


Tilly hadn’t spoken much to Sanrook in the past bit either, saying a few words when asked a question, or laughing a little in response to the normal random chatter, but she hadn’t quite trusted her voice to not sound strained, and thus had tried to get away with as little as possible. The most she had managed was asking Sanrook if it was a good idea to sleep in a tub of water during a thunderstorm, (“Dehydrated. Not really a choice. Besides, what’s the odds." But Sanrook had fallen silent a short time ago after pushing the cleaning cart back outside, laughing at how the wind had pushed it down the sidewalk away from their door, the only noises from the typically constantly noisy redhead being the occasional sloshes and splashes of Sanrook moving around, trying to get comfortable.


Tilly had at least been able to distract herself a bit with a paperback, although even that was hard when the lights kept flickering on and off, reminding her each time that she didn’t have a flashlight. Next time, she told herself, she was making room in her bag for a flashlight, and a spare t-shirt like she had that day (thank God for small comforts, at least she wasn’t stuck in a shirt that was damp and smelly), and a first-aid kit for that matter. She had spent a small amount of time mentally compiling a list of items that might be useful for the next planet they landed on, but that felt a little bit too much like survival prep, which just made her stomach hurt worse.


The storm was getting louder and louder. She kept waiting for it to end, only for the wind to pick up again, blowing the rain harshly against the glass. As fierce as it was, it also seemed to be a slow-mover, which felt odd. Typically storms that intense ended quickly, blowing past in a fury but also seemingly impatient and quick to be on their way. This one however was staying around, as if it had nothing better to do than to make her into a miserable shuddering wreck.


She leaned forward a bit more, curling herself over her book and a piece of hair fell into her line of sight. She looked past it for a minute, trying instead to focus on the words in front of her, before something about it caught her eye. There was no more brown. Tilly pulled her hair forward with both hands, picking through the strands swiftly. Why it surprised her she wasn’t certain. It was going to happen sooner or later, but she wished she knew when it had happened. It had been changing for a while, she had gotten used to that, but at that moment something about it felt so fi-


Her train of thought stopped suddenly when the lights went off. With the electricity gone there was nothing but engulfing darkness, nothing to deaden the sounds from outside, which suddenly seemed to fill the entire space, rattling the windows and pounding the roof, and shaking the door. Normal storms didn’t shake doors.


When the sirens went off, so different than she was used to but still so similar, her stomach dropped.


“Toren?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.


“Yeah?” Toren chirped. Almost instantly a light popped up from somewhere across the room and Tilly almost sobbed as she stood up shakily and strode towards it. “I was wondering when you were gonna think of me. Kind of dark there isn’t it? The local grid is down.”


“Yeah, yeah,” Tilly said, voice shaking as much as her hands, and arms, and shoulders, and, “Toren, what’s going on?”


“Like now?” Toren asked.


“Yeah.” Tilly replied, “Right now. Outside, I need to know what’s going on outside. And if you say something like it’s raining I swear to G-"


“Um… okay. Weather reports are showing a- oh, yeah, yeah. That’s not good.”


“Toren,” Tilly said, voice rising.


“A tornado. Or something like a tornado. Like, now.”


“Now?” Tilly was already in motion, jogging back to the bed and grabbing the pillows, then slinging her purse over her shoulder.


“Yeah, like now.” The voice said from across the room, where Tilly had left the communicator. “Like now, now. Like do you guys have a cellar or something?”


Tilly glanced about the room desperately. “No cellar. Bathroom will have to do.” She was already moving towards it when she turned about suddenly, running back towards the small blue glow on the table.


“You saved me!” Toren squeaked happily as Tilly grabbed the small device and ran towards the bathroom.


Tilly didn’t respond, her teeth clenched too tightly. She slammed the door shut behind her, hard enough to rattle the small room. She turned around to see Sanrook sitting up, eyes wide open, still dressed in the spring suit that she wore, Tilly realized suddenly, under everything. Tossing a few pillows at Sanrook, she set the communicator down beside the tub, on the small layer of towels Sanrook had arranged on the floor. The glow from the device barely lit up a section of the room, but it was enough to see the confused look on Sanrook’s face.


“Pull the drain.” She said, more calmly than she ever thought possible, and, gripping the two remaining pillows, stepped into the tub, sitting down as Sanrook’s feet scooted out of the way.


“Uh, we’re friends and all but what’s going on?” asked Sanrook, sounding just a little dazed and sleepy.


Tilly opened her mouth to speak, but the sound of breaking glass and a shaking in the walls answered instead.


“Dude, what’s going on?” Sanrook asked again, louder and finally awake.


“Tornado.” Tilly replied, calmly, and pushed down on Sanrook’s head. “Keep your head down.”


“A what?” Sanrook asked, raising her voice to be heard over the increasing noise, raising her head again as well.


“A tornado. Big swirly wind thing. How could you live in the U.S. for half a year and not hear about a tornado?” Tilly asked loudly, before reaching over and pushing on Sanrook’s head again. “Head down.”


“Okay, okay. I got it,” and Tilly wasn’t certain if she was referring to her head or the thing that was trying to break down the door. “Like a water spout on land.” Sanrook replied, keeping her head ducked this time.


“Yeah, that.” Tilly yelled, suddenly aware of the fact that she could barely hear herself, instead intensely aware of creaking walls, then nothing but wind, and shattering glass, and her ears popping and then a deafening crash.


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