"What are you doing! This is no time to be reading!"
Startled, the two trainees sitting at the Exodar's navigation control console almost dropped the sheaf of pages they had been studying.
In the doorway was Artificer Daelo, one of the Exodar's Senior Engineers, and his friend Peacekeeper Jadaar. "The order to spin the engines up came 10 minutes ago!" Daelo said crossly, hurrying across the room. After looking at the console, he softened a little. "Which… I see you have done. Well then… very good. I'll take over from here."
D'lesh, the taller of the two, quickly backed away from the pilot's chair. "So this isn't a simulation? We're… really leaving Draenor?" she asked. She had put the papers she held behind her back, and was edging toward the incineration chute.
"Yes," Daelo said, his hands dancing over the shifting light patterns of the control board. "The prison is clear and the greenhouse and machine shop are ninety-eight percent evacuated! We've got to be ready to go as soon as the Prophet and his forces come on board!"
D'lesh had reached the chute, but before she could open it Peacekeeper Jadaar's heavy fluted mace intervened. "I'll take that," he said softly. "I'm sure the Artificer and I would like to see what was so distracting."
D'lesh reluctantly handed the pages to him. "Nothing important. Just some drawings." She looked faintly apprehensive. "Is it the orcs that are attacking?"
"No," Jadaar said, tucking the folded papers into his belt. "A new enemy. Something called Sindorei."
M'gaan, the small-horned junior engineer, had surreptitiously put the papers she held on the floor. She was now nonchalantly pushing them out of sight under the navigation console with her hoof.
"Stop that," Artificer Daelo said to her without taking his eyes or hands from the navigation controls. "I know full well that Standby Duty is tediously uneventful—I did it myself for years—but I also cannot stress how important it is that you and your wife never to forget how great a responsibility it is. We are hunted, and must always be ready to flee."
"Go to the Vault and help secure the storage crates," Jadaar said, not unkindly. "It may be a rough flight."
Chastened, the two women hurried out of the room.
Once they were gone Jadaar asked Daelo, "How may I assist you?"
"If you are not needed elsewhere you can stay and keep me awake," Daelo said. "I've skipped three sleep shifts already, but I need to be here to stabilize the orbit once we've emerged from the Nether and arrived wherever O'ros is taking us."
"No other Level Eights are available?"
"Juel was injured in the attack on the fortress, and Hoban has infant sons," Daelo said.
Jadaar shook his head. "Sadly, my engineering proficiency is only Level Three."
"Ah, but your other proficiencies compensate quite adequately," Daelo said with a chuckle. He pressed a small blue broadcast triangle on the console and said, "By The Prophet and The Illumination, we are safely on our way once again." Done with his announcement to the Exodar's passengers, he slipped off his chair and knelt on the floor, feeling under the console to retrieve the pages M'gaan had tried to hide. "I'm curious to see what they were looking at." He was now on his stomach, head and arm out of sight as he groped for a wayward sheet.
Jadaar unfolded the pages that D'lesh had given him and began to leaf through them. "It seems to be a school project," he said, "Argus history told though multi-panel pictures and dialogue."
"History?" Daelo emerged triumphant, clutching three rumpled pages. "Why would they want to hide a history project?"
"Well, it seems to be set before the—" Jadaar had stopped suddenly, blinking and staring as if not sure what he was seeing. He rifled through the rest of his stack, pausing once or twice to stare. "I, ah, I seem to be missing page seven—do you have it?"
Daelo was sitting on the floor, turning the pages in his lap this way and that. "No, these pages are numbered in the thirties, and seem to be unfinished. Very rough sketches." He looked up. "I can't tell what it's about."
"Ah… it's… it seems to be… intense friendship between two members of the Triumvirate." Jadaar's ears were turning dark blue. He held out a page for Daelo to see.
"Is that—" Daelo asked, squinting.
"I think so."
"And is he—"
"It certainly looks like it to me."
"He was said to be very beautiful before the Corruption." Daelo frowned. "Though, really, what he's about to do to Ve–"
Jadaar cleared his throat.
"Sorry, to the other Triumvir—isn't going to be physically possible. Not if that's an accurate depiction of his anatomy." Daelo thought for a moment. "Or perhaps," Daelo glanced at a row of lights on the console, and rubbed his fingertips along them until they dimmed. "Well, we know that Corruption changed him physically in various ways. Perhaps that picture is meant as foreshadowing?"
Jadaar made a faint choking sound. "I couldn't say." He turned the page he held back around and studied it intently. "I would say this looks implausible because of inferior artistic talent. If their bodies had been drawn correctly, without such blatant exaggeration, you would see that it could easily be accomplished. With proper positioning and lubrication, of course."
"Moreso than this one," Daelo said, looking through his pages, then handed one to Jadaar. "Now, certainly that one—certainly that one stretches credulity too far. As well as—"
"Yes, yes, point made." Jadaar rubbed his eye. "I don't understand why those two would want to look at this."
"Well, it's quite erotic, isn't it?" Daelo said with undisguised appreciation. "The artist has captured very well the rippling musculature of a virile male's chest and thighs, the throbbing power of the veined—"
Jadaar interrupted. "But would M'gaan and D'lesh have an appreciation of such an aesthetic?"
"Perhaps not those two, but certainly others might. Or it could be the thrill of sacrilege," Daelo offered. "The idea that, twenty-five millennia ago, the Prophet and the Beautiful One were ardent lovers of heroic flexibility and inventiveness… "
Jadaar shook his head. "You are too dramatic. I told you, what is illustrated there wouldn't require extraordinary exertions."
Daelo stood, looked at the console, touched a few controls. "We have some time before we emerge from the Between. Let us test your claim." He shucked off his shorts.
"Are you certain you will not be too distracted to monitor the console?" Jadaar asked, setting down his mace and beginning to undo the buttons of his cassock.
"I'm a Level Eight," Daelo said, rummaging in a small storage drawer. "What could go wrong?"
And thus it was that, while the Artificer and the Peacekeeper were engaged in conducting vigorous experiments in the name of science, the bombs that the nefarious blood elves had hidden in the Exodar detonated, causing the dimensional vessel to emerge quite prematurely from the Twisting Nether and explode in the skies of northeastern Kalimdor. In the aftermath of the crash, Jadaar unhesitatingly joined the contingent of Aldor that returned to Draenor to seek vengeance on the sin'dorei, while Daelo stayed in Azeroth to apply his civil engineering skills to adapting the wreckage of the Exodar into new living spaces. Neither had time to discuss what had happened.
Which was, all things considered, probably just as well.
~ The end ~
Again, a thank you to JackofNone for suggested tweaks.
Author's notes in my Dreamwidth and LiveJournal.
first post 11 June 2012; rev 18 Dec 2017