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The Great Battleship Condesce Encounters Technical Difficulties on the Runway

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She's not home when you come back in from class. That's not especially unusual, really, but you get a nice warm feeling when you see her watching for you through a window or something, with that look on her face as though she couldn't possibly care less if you ever came home but oh, there you are, how convenient.

 

Even with her ID bracelet, you still worry a little when she's out. But Condie's been an indoor-outdoor troll all her life, or for the parts of it that you've been around for, and you figure she can handle herself just fine out there. Her license is current and you have all the shelters' numbers already stored in your phone just in case.

 

But anyway. You are Jane Crocker and you have 19th Century Brit-Lit homework to do. Might as well get the reading done before dinner; you stow your bag upstairs in your room and bring the anthology back down to the den to flip through. The den has a great picture window overlooking Lake Union and the sun's starting to set. It's gorgeous watching the peach-and-salmon light play on the water and turn the clouds all those different shapes. You love to see how it turns from pink to orange to red and finally it's actually kind of dark and the line of downtown Seattle over the hill has turned from a silhouette into a misty twinkle of lit-up offices. The world is a really pretty place.

 

You realize you're sitting there in the dark with a book you haven't read. And then you hear the door down the hall bang open, the one Condie has her own key for.

 

“Hi,” you say, just so she knows you're there even with the lights off. You hear her quick footsteps down the hall, little damp plashes, and she comes into the den still dripping.

 

She doesn't even respond to you. She skitters straight over to her favorite corner to cozy up in her papasan with the pile of chenille throw rugs she likes so much. It's standard human size, which makes it just about the perfect size for her—she's a smallish troll, about mid-chest on you, and the hair is at least one other smallish troll in addition. Your mom said that when Condie was a champion on the showtroll circuit she was considered pretty good-sized, but Mom inherited Condie from her nanna and everybody was smaller back then.

 

You go through more cushions for that papasan. Wet troll and sharp claws and silk tussah do not mix no matter what she says. You get up to turn the light on and ignore the token hiss from that corner as your eyes adjust.

 

“Have fun out there?” you ask the bowl of sodden hair.

 

“Nnn,” it says. The skinny horns poking up out of the shag give a little shake.

 

She's been in the lake again, and no wonder. Seatrolls do that. You rub your eyes and head over there so she can glare at you with narrow pink eyes and groom herself pretty again and pretend you're not there for a while. Like she does.

 

“Go away,” she says, her back still to you.

 

“Pettings first!” you tease her. She likes pettings, even when she's grouchy. Especially when she's grouchy!

 

You tuck a hand between her horns to scritch at her forelock, where you know she likes it—and the sound she makes, like a restaurant kitchen on fire with its staff trapped inside, is the most horrible thing you have ever heard. You freeze.

 

“Condie?”

 

You can hear her breathing now, shallow and fast. Very, very carefully, you reach out with the other hand to push away some of her hair from her face so maybe you can figure out what's wrong.

 

First, she makes the most horrible sound again.

 

Then, she whips around and clutches your arm long enough to sink her needle-sharp teeth into it.

 

Then, the papasan goes end-over-end as she scrambles out and you go end-over-end as she scrambles over you with claws and hissing and straight back over the couch to the other side of the room to hide behind the television.

 

Criminy!

 

She's still growling back there while you do a hasty inventory of your injuries: nothing too bad, seatroll teeth are sharp but short so your arm's only bleeding a bit. There's a couple of tears in your shirt and a gouge in the back of your shoulder that hurts a lot and that you'll probably have to get looked at. So not important right now, though.

 

Super-slowly and super-extra-non-threatening even for you, you skidge over there on your hands and knees. The bite trickles blood down your arm and you leave gross sticky handprints. “Condie? Did something happen? It's okay, I won't hurt you...”

 

A hiss.

 

“Come on out, sweetie...”

 

Finally you get close enough and she stops freaking out enough to let you get a good look at her, and you wince.

 

“I hate you,” she snarls. “Stop looking.”

 

“You're just upset,” you tell her, which is a really stupid thing to say because of course she's upset. There's a big bruise already purpling up under the grey of her forehead and left cheek, and there's either a bad scrape or a bunch of cuts or both on one side of her nose, and her left horn has had the front of its cuticle torn off and...oh, there's a tiny bloody patch up there where it looks like a little piece of her hair got pulled out by the roots...

 

“Stop looking,” she demands again, and you can see another freakout brewing as her pink eyes go wide and her pupils dilate so you do that. You stop looking. You tuck your feet under you and you look at your hands, one of which is grody with blood.

 

Your mouth just says “it's okay, it's okay” and a bunch of lame comforting things like that while your brain runs down the list of troll vets open past normal office hours and whether this is something you should take to the emergency clinic up north. Out of the corner of your eye you can see Condie slowly losing the crazyface and starting to look miserable instead.

 

You try to pet her again with the clean hand, just a little on the back of the head, and she lets you do it. Good. “Okay. Can you tell me what happened now?”

 

“I need an airplane. A good one, one that flies.”

 

“Planes are expensive, Condie.”

 

“That's not important and you know it. I need one. I never realized it before.”

 

“Maybe we can get you some flying lessons for your birthday, then.” This is a filthy comforting lie, and you know it, because only people can take flying lessons. It works, though, and she curls up on her side to look up at you in a smugly contented way. You're both bleeding less now. She's going to be fine.

 

Her face is still a mess, though, and you're pretty sure that's blood making the back of your sweater stiff and sticky. “I'm taking us both to the vet,” you joke. Mostly. “Come on, let's get you dressed.”

 

She hisses again but she doesn't even half mean it, she's just being Condie, and she hustles up the stairs ahead of you to your bedroom. She pulls a blouse and skirt out of her little trunk next to your dresser while you skin out of your sweater. It pulls a clot of scab with it—you feel a warm trickle down your back again.

 

“I'm sorry I hurt you,” she says by rote. Your mom trained her to be very careful with you when you were little—there are baby pictures of you curled up happy as a clam in a nest of her hair. Not much of that training has stuck around, but at least Condie still apologizes.

 

“It's all right,” you tell her. And just like that she's all smug again as she does up her buttons, officially forgiven and off the hook. You wish you could do that.

 

After a quick wash-up in the bathroom, you head back downstairs. It takes a bit to let the night staff know to put your dinner in the fridge, and that you'll be back in a few hours, and that everything is okay and nobody needs to drive you to the hospital, but soon enough you're out the door down the driveway with Condie hot on your heels and oh god.

 

What.

 

Down by your dock. Its running lights are still on.

 

There is...

 

There's...a seaplane skidded akimbo in deep troughs of gravel halfway up your beach. There's a dent in one pontoon, and you could swear that even in the crappy light of the solar lamps in the yard and the plane's own lights that you can see a clump of long black hair caught in the wheel. There are deep claw gouges on the pilot-side door, and the window in that door has a hole through the safety glass. It's...about as big as a human child's fist.

 

You remember what Condie asked for, earlier. One that flies.

 

You look back at her.

 

“This one is broken,” she says, and shrugs.

 

In the distance, you hear helicopters. They're coming closer. This is...probably going to be a problem.