I leant against the big door for a moment, catching my breath before banging on it again. Where the hell was everyone? It seemed to be strangely dark inside, I hoped I was at the right place, but… how many castles could there be round here, anyway?
"C'mon, guys, open up! It's freakin' cold out here! And rainy!"
I heard voices inside, and then one of them yelled back
"Who is it?"
I wasn't that impressed. I mean, I was getting severely damp out there.
"It's Claire, you morons. Who the hell else do you know with a kiwi accent?" Well, Diana, I supposed, but as far as I knew we weren't expecting her that night. I began thumping on the door again. Maybe if I annoyed them enough they'd let me in…
The door opened abruptly, and I almost fell through. I saved myself just in time, grabbing onto Face Loran, who'd opened it, and righting myself again.
"Jeez, let a girl die of pneumonia out there why don't you?" I stalked into the dimly lit room. "Sorry I'm late, flight was unbelievably late and you have no idea how hard it is to drive in the pouring rain on the wrong freakin side of the road on a freakin' pitch black night and- How come the lights are all off?" I interrupted myself mid rant, the less than happy atmosphere finally getting through to me.
"What's going on?" My gaze tracked round the ballroom. Gavin sprawled on one of the couches, obviously coma'd out… I sensed the evil hand of over-indulgence in alcohol there. Anti standing in one corner with Wes, who was - and this was interesting - hanging on to her. She was beginning to look a little put out. Near Gavin, Elizabeth and Wedge were looking pretty cosy, except for that air of worry that everyone had.
About seven people started to answer at once. Wedge waved them all silent and explained everything quickly.
"… and we can't find the generator yet, so it looks like we're stuck without power for now." He paused for a moment, and seemed to be struggling with something. "Um, Claire - what are you dressed up as? It's very… colourful."
Almost everyone focused on my outfit all of a sudden, and I felt a flush begin to colour my cheeks. Then most of my fellow WAASers burst out laughing, which I guess was probably good for the tension level.
&uqot;Gee, Wedge, your terran education is severely lacking. I'm Rainbow Brite. You know, good old-fashioned superhero, bringing colour to the world with little-to-no fashion sense of her own. But I just loved these boots." They were knee high, big and puffy, graduating through the colours of the rainbow, trimmed (and lined) with soft white (fake!) fur. I'd taken a few liberties with the dress - it was more or less royal blue, sleeveless and trimmed with the same fur as the boots. Oh, and there was a classy rainbow appliqued onto the front, but it was a lot more tasteful than the original.
"And, while this may not really be a good time to mention it, I did bring some food." A lot of ears pricked up at that. Sugar is good for shock and stress. Or, at least, that was how I was gonna rationalise it. Fuel up, then head out on another Sydney-search. I pulled out the chocolate truffles I'd made earlier and started passing them round. Wedge gave me a suspicious look and asked what was in them.
"Um, chocolate, coconut, condensed milk, lemon juice" my voice dropped to a mumble "and rum. Why do you ask?" I tried the sweet and innocent routine.
"What was that last one?" Damn, he so wasn't buying it. I gave in.
"Rum, alright. And yes, I know I'm underage here, but you couldn't get tipsy on these if you ate the lot by yourself. It's just for taste." For once, the puppy-dog eyes look actually worked and he gave in. I managed not to gloat and helped myself to a few more.
"Well, we should probably go look again for Sydney. And if someone'll come with me, I'll have another go at finding the generator." I ignored the dirty look I got from Anti at that comment, as well as a sneaking suspicion I was being awfully bossy for someone who'd just arrived. But Wedge wasn't complaining, and he was the ranking officer. Sure, they'd successfully freaked me out as well, and it certainly was a typical horror film setting, but give me cricket bat and a big strong pilot by my side and I was fairly sure I could take care of myself. Emphasis on "fairly"… Foreboding began to cramp my stomach as I realised what I'd just let myself in for. Well, it was too late to back out now. Me and my big mouth.
I took another look round the room, trying to figure out who to drag down there with me. Most of the pilots didn't want to meet my eyes. Couldn't really blame them… if Wes was that freaked… still it was Corran's fault, it'd serve him right if I made him - nuh-uh. If the worst came to the worst I did not want to end up dead with him. I looked at Wes again. Nah, there was no way he was going back down there, no matter how annoyed Anti was getting with him. I decided it would be too cruel to separate An'Arie and Tycho, and turned my attention to the Wraiths. Choices, choices.
"Oh, Fa-ace? Wanna come downstairs with me?" I tried the big ol' puppy-dog eyes look on him. He was about as immune as Wedge was. Stifling a grin, I grabbed his arm and dragged him over to the trapdoor. He gave Ton a "help me" look, but Phanan was too busy laughing to do anything.
Halfway out of the room I took another look at Gavin, and then stopped, remembering something.
"Um, guys, I can sober Gavin up." A pitifully happy expression grew on Wedge's face.
"You can? Do it, do it!"
"Yeah, well, there's a catch. He'll be awake, and sober, and he can help us look for Syd, but… he'll be unbelievably hyper."
The thought of Gavin hyper floored Wedge for a moment, and I could see he was tempted to just leave the young pilot where he was, but he knew as well as I did that we needed everyone functional, and nodded reluctantly. I tossed him a can of V out of my back pack and headed off to the basement. "Oh, and for the love of the gods, don't let Wes near any of that stuff! I know how many cans I brought, too." I yelled before we were out of hearing range. As we walked down the stair to the basement, I couldn't help but look at Face. He seemed to have recovered most of his courage, and had me firmly by the arm. I finally had time to take in his costume. He'd obviously scavenged the black robe from a closet in the castle, he'd done his usual good job with putting on scar makeup and had topped off the outfit by borrowing glasses from someone, with the lens knocked out so he could see.
"So, Face, did I mention that you make a great Harry Potter?"
Then, just as he opened his mouth to reply, I felt the floor beneath us tilt and give way…
Continued in Part Fourteen