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z-Olivia Jennings

Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Fiction - [A&A] Nothing But Blue Skies

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“And there you are.” The Hindi porter set down Olivia’s bags and turned with a smile to watch her take in the cabin. It wasn’t a small room despite their mode of travel, done in white and reds. The space was brightly lit with soft, indirect lighting. A small dining table with two chairs was placed against the back wall. A loveseat immediately to the left of the door faced two armchairs, making a small seating area.

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The porter opened one of the two doors to show her a compact bathroom. “Here is the water closet. You have a hot tub for your use, as well as a shower. Your berth includes full use of water.” The tub filled most of the room and was large enough to fit two comfortably.

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“Goodness, that’s… the largest tub I’ve ever seen.” Olivia stared, stunned. She was starting to feel a little overwhelmed—more overwhelmed.

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“And this room is the bedroom.” Most of the space in the suite had been devoted to this room. The windows were large and made with thick glass; the image was slightly distorted but the golden light in the room was rich and warm. Heavy curtains could be drawn across it for night but were open right now and showing a picturesque view of Bangkok—as picturesque as that city got, anyway. Drawers and a closet had been built into the walls to create an image of space without sacrificing storage. The centerpiece of the room was the bed; it was a queen or maybe a king. The comforter on top looked as thick as a mattress, and all Olivia could think was that it was a bed made for lounging in for hours.

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But it was the desk under the windows and across from the bed that really caught Olivia’s attention. The wood of the piece shone with a pale hue, matched by the cushioned chair in front of it. The young nurse reached out and brushed her fingers over the edge of the ætherlabe terminal.

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“I’m afraid that you’ll not always have access to the æthersystem,” the porter said, slipping past her to turn on the screen with a flourish, “but when you do, you’ll be able to use it within the privacy of your own room.” The young man’s dark eyes glittered with dark amusement as he murmured, “And there are no restrictions to your usage.”

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“Thank you,” Olivia said, knowing he was trying to imply something not sure what he meant.

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The porter all-but winked as he repeated himself, “No restrictions. You can watch things you can’t find in say… a movie theatre.”

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Olivia was still drawing a blank. “Unedited war footage?” she gamely guessed.

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“He means pornography, darling.” James dropped his bags at the foot of the bed and dug a tip out of his pocket. “Oh, and have them bring around some champagne, glasses and a do-not disturb sign.”

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The porter managed to tuck the money away without looking at it but it was clear he knew exactly how generous James had been. “Of course, sir.” He bowed. “Enjoy your honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Fleming.”

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And with that, Olivia was alone in the cabin with James. Nervously, she spun the gold band on her left ring finger and said, “We should establish some rules. For… us. This. The… cohabiting.” She knew she was babbling, but her nerves wouldn’t let her stop.

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"Co-habiting?" The expression on LaHaye's face was deadpan gold, though his brown eyes laughed silently from behind the bland, mildly confused arch of his eyebrows. "That's all behind us now, darling." He crossed the room with that flowing, eerie grace of his and dropped to one knee, taking her gloved hand gently and gazing up into her eyes. "You've made an honest man of me." he declared. Olivia blushed dark crimson under her cafe-au-lait skin and pulled her hand out of his unresisting grasp, trying to ignore both his chuckle and the sudden feel of her heart leaping into her throat.

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"Stop that." she said, without real force to the words as she tried to look anywhere but at the handsome rogue currently flowing to his feet and moving over to the closet. It was hard to get angry with him sometimes, which was an additional source of frustration for the young woman. "I'm serious." she insisted, feeling safer looking at the back of him than meeting those smiling eyes and all-too-charming crooked grin- She forced herself to focus. "We're not actually married, so I know you don't seriously expect the charade to continue in private."

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"Mmmm." James replied noncommittedly as he regarded the open closet. "And so?"

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"So we have to... make arrangements." Olivia said, feeling her blush rising again.

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"Oh, that." LaHaye - or Fleming as he was for the trip - said as he swung around to smile at her with a near-perfect expression of dawning comprehension.

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"Yes." Olivia replied, feeling some relief approaching from the near-incessant teasing. "That. What do you propose?"

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"I'll sleep on the right." James shrugged as though that settled everything and moved to grab his suitcase. Olivia blinked: evidently the light at the end of the tunnel was a train.

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It had been determined that two Dynamics travelling to England would attract far too much of the wrong sort of attention. Axis spies were everywhere, and so Olivia Jennings and James LaHaye had become Jim and Livy Fleming, a young, foolish and scandalously mixed-race newlywed couple traveling in style back to England in order to present Jim's rich industrialist father with the happy news. After a surreptitious journey to Thailand, the two had adopted their personas and wed publicly before boarding the luxury æthership "Pacific Empress" to begin the long journey home. The æthership was a zeppelin, of sorts, but filled with non-flammable gas and propelled by means of six large engines and an æther-based power plant, it could travel vast distances somewhere between the speed of a ocean-going liner and that of a conventional transport plane or flying boat, and with a lot more creature comforts than the latter and less dangerously than the former in these troubled times. When she'd first heard the plan, Olivia had been thrilled to be travelling in such style. Now, five minutes into her honeymoon, she was wondering if they had a brig to lock up new brides who brained their stupid grooms with something heavy.

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"Relax, dear." James told her as he began unpacking his case. "You shall have the bed, and I shall sleep on the floor." He paused and gave her a knowing look coupled with one of those fiendish, flirting smiles. "That is, if such an arrangement suits you."

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Olivia hesitated. “We could switch,” she offered, glancing at the floor. It didn’t look too awful; it was thickly carpeted.

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“Nonsense. I’ve slept on worse,” he told her firmly as he transferred clothing from his case to the cabinet.

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“I’m not a frail flower; I’ve bunked in some bad places, too.” Olivia carefully opened her bag and started to unpack. It was weird and scary to share a room with a man; had it been anyone other than James, she might have just locked herself in the bathroom for the length of the trip. “I grew up in a pretty bad place.” She saw his curious glance out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t say anything.

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Since Olivia had given away most of her clothing when she’d gotten her ætherfiber, she didn’t have much to unpack. Her underthings were quickly stashed in one of the drawers and it didn’t take long to find a spot in the bathroom for her toiletries. That left her with empty bags and nothing else to do.

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Hesitantly, she went back to the bedroom. James was leisurely unpacking his bags and Olivia slipped past him to the desk. The ætherlabe was still glowing softly and Olivia used the attached keyboard to check music news. All the information she’d been missing while in the back end of Burma was now at her fingertips.

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She was reading about the popularity of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with American volunteers when James put his hands lightly on her shoulders. Olivia only jumped a little. Leaning down, he murmured, “What has you so captivated while your husband is in your bridal boudoir?”

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His teasing words made her blush but she ignored them. “Just catching up.” Olivia gave the ætherlabe instructions before she stood up; as she faced James, the first soft notes of Duke Ellington’s Take the ‘A’ Train began to fill the room. “And to hear some music again! Mmm.”

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To her shock, James grabbed her hand and put the other on her waist; without thinking, Olivia dropped her hand into the correct position on his shoulder a beat before he started to dance. Olivia grinned dazzlingly as they moved around the room together; when he spun her carefully in their limited space, she started to laugh. “You can dance?” she asked, her eyes sparkling.

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“Of course. I was doing this while you were figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other, I’m sure.” James gave her one of those annoying smiles that made her want to prove that he wasn’t that much superior.

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For now, she let that go; she was too happy to learn that he was a magnificent dancer. “Oh, I am keeping you busy tonight,” she vowed, only to blush when he laughed and she realized how her words could be taken.

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“That’s what I like to hear.” His wicked grin threatened her ability to dance while chilling her at the same time.

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She trusted James, but her phobia of sex was still strong. Thankfully, the song ended and Olivia pulled back; he let her go and she quickly shut down the player before another song started. “I have an idea,” she announced as she turned back around, “leave the packing for later. Let’s explore the ship and start scandalizing people, shall we?”

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"Whatever you say, darling." LaHaye replied with a fatuous look of adoration on his face that, despite her mixed feelings on the matter, made Olivia giggle. He checked himself in the mirror: the tailor in Bangkok hadn't done a bad job of altering the off-the-rack linen suit, but LaHaye was glad that the æthership would be stopping over for a few days in Bombay, where he knew a top-notch bespoke tailor who could whip up something much snappier, more suitable for London. That engendered a thoughtful frown: was he so ready to fall back into Society? What would they make of his traveling companion? LaHaye was relieved, upon a moment's examination of his feelings, to realise that he didn't much care what they thought. So, I'm not the shallow youth I once was, he mused as he adjusted his jacket cuffs, staring into the eyes in the mirror. So what am I now?

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"Let us hope that people are ready to be scandalised." he said with a faint grin as he turned from the mirror. He crossed to the one bag he hadn't unpacked and opened it, pulling out a holster harness with his twin automatics. Olivia's hand rested gently on his arm, stopping him, and he turned to look down into an earnestly beseeching gaze.

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"You won't need those, will you?" she asked him a touch plaintively. "I mean, we're not here to fight. We're just going to be traveling, miles above the ground."

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"On an æthership, with roughly a hundred people we do not know." he argued reasonably, his eyes on hers. "Not counting the twenty-strong crew, any one of which could be an agent of Pok or of the Axis. Livy..." he turned and took her hand in both of his, his tone gentle. "I've been charged to deliver you safely to London, and I will do so; whatever it takes, I intend to keep you safe." Unable to keep eye contact, Olivia looked down, a blush rising in her cheeks that felt as though it was threatening to ignite her hair. Flirting, playful LaHaye was tough on a girl, but sober, gallant and protective LaHaye was little short of devastating, all the more so for his sincerity.

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"Okay." she murmured, letting her hand slip reluctantly from his clasp. LaHaye smiled slightly and took off his jacket, swinging on and arranging the rig in the mirror before putting the jacket back on again. The guns were in the small of his back, arranged one above the other in a cross-draw position. For someone who wasn't a Dynamic, they might be clumsy to draw, but he would have no problem. There was no sign of the weapons, even when he raised his arms over his head and to the sides, just as Tunbridge had promised when he'd had the thing made. Perfect. Olivia watched, then looked back at the case on the bed. "You won't be..." she left the question hanging.

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"Oh, no." LaHaye grinned a little. "There's not a concealed holster for that beast. She's going under the bed until needed." He fitted actions to words, snapping shut the locks and sliding the strengthened case holding the Piecemaker and it's assorted ammunition under the bed. "So, lets take a turn around the ship while she's in port, hmm?" He offered Olivia his arm and waited for her to take it before leaving the cabin, closing and locking the door behind them.

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The æthership was worth a look, to say the least. Thick carpeting and giltwork adorned the corridors and passenger lounge, game room and ballroom. It was, in fact, a miniature luxury liner for the skies, and even the worldly LaHaye was quietly impressed with the sheer wealth it had taken to build such a vessel. At Olivia's request, they wandered out onto the observation deck, a passenger area that ran around the ship and had two levels, complete with screwed-down deckchairs and high, brass-adorned railings from which passengers could gaze out or, more likely, down at the world.

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"Do they let people out here while the ship is in the air?" Olivia wondered aloud. LaHaye shook his head, then nodded amiably to another couple that they passed, affecting to ignore the shocked look on their faces at the mixed pair.

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"Wouldn't have thought so during really high-altitude flight, dearest. When the æthership needs to get above the bad weather and make good time, for instance. But most of the time, cruising allows for passengers to get out and stretch their legs, provided they don't do something damn silly like climbing on the railing." An Indian deck attendant was ahead of them, his eyes watchful for likely just such an incautious act. Olivia looked up, noting the large gasbag that cast it's shade over the deck. The æthership was in port at the moment, tethered to a huge gantry structure that was it's 'dock' while the last preparations for getting underway were being made. Below them, a mere hundred feet or so, the dock workers looked tiny as they carried crates and baggage to the elevator shafts.

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"Impressive, isn't it?" LaHaye noted. She looked at him quizzically.

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"You've traveled like this before?" she asked. He smiled and shook his head, giving her hand in his a gentle squeeze.

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"Never." he allowed. "This is a first for me, too. It's a nice experience to share, though. I'll say that much." He winked at her, his smile impish.

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“It is nice to share.” Olivia nodded in return, blushing even as she gave him a delighted, shy smile. There had been a marked changed in her since they’d left Burma, as if the country itself had been oppressing her. James imagined it was the removal from an environment that had been so terrible and so full of bad memories. Whatever the cause, the young nurse had lost a bit of her constant wariness.

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Olivia’s thoughts were on a different track. If this had been her life, Olivia would have been happy. It wasn’t that she was madly in love with James or anything foolish like that, but this was the kind of life that every young girl from the slums of New Orleans dreamed of. A man by your side, a life of luxury and a content feeling that warmed like a sunbeam. Even if this hadn’t been the Pacific Empress, setting out on a honeymoon voyage with the man of her dreams would have been wondrous. That it was all a sham made Olivia sad. Damn you, Tunbridge. I told you this was a bad idea.

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With effort, Olivia continued to smile. Just the act of smiling released good hormones in her body and helped lower bad ones. She knew that her body was flooded with the bad; her near-constant levels of anxiety and stress guaranteed that she was swimming in a bath of chemicals. That ‘bath’ created a cumulative effect, upsetting her more and causing her to create more negative hormones. She tried to reverse that effect; smiling was a cheap and only moderately effective way of dealing with it.

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Sighing, she leaned her head against James’s shoulder, enjoying the small comfort and knowing he’d think it was part of their act. Sex made her acutely uncomfortable and afraid, but this pleasant closeness was enjoyable. More people were coming onto the observation deck, and stewards were mingling with them, passing out streamers. “For our departure, ma’am,” one told Olivia when she looked at it quizzically.

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“Sounds like we’re leaving soon,” James murmured to her and Olivia grinned, almost giddy. As if they had been waiting on his cue, a whistle blew.

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Speakers crackled to life and a man’s voice announced, “Welcome to the Pacific Empress on her voyage from Bangkok to Britain.” Several people cheered at the mention of the home country; Olivia squeezed James’s hand as she recalled his pensiveness about returning. “I am Captain Miles Chadwick and I and the crew of the Empress is proud to serve you on this trip. We are about to depart from port and you are welcome to remain on the observation deck while we’re at safe altitudes. The stewards will tell you when to return to the inside. Once again, welcome, and we hope to make this a delightful trip you’ll never forget.”

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Louder cheers and clapping greeted this announcement, even as the porters below cleared the area. People started to throw streamers off the ship, leaving ribbons of bright color spiraling through the air. A moment later, the deck shifted under their feet. Olivia instinctively took a tighter grip on James, then laughed at herself as Bangkok began slowly shrink below them. A couple of balloons spiraled up past them from those watching the æthership leave. Her eyes were shining as Olivia caught James’s gaze again, and she was a touched surprised to see the same sparkle of excitement. He wasn’t completely jaded, and she had the foolish urge to kiss him. Thankfully, she resisted as she turned her eyes back out to the blue sky.

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Soon, blue sky merged with blue ocean, their exact horizons becoming indistinct over the distance. Stewards began to quietly ask people to return inside, and James offered his arm to Olivia once more. “I believe that we have unpacking left to do, and a room to thoroughly enjoy,” he murmured in her ear with a wicked grin.

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Ignoring the unease that his suggestion caused her, Olivia smiled up at him with what she hoped was an adoring expression and said, “Yes, husband dear.”

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The unpacking hadn't taken long, and then there was nothing much to do until dinner time, so the newlyweds remained in their cabin, obviously committed to enjoying one another's company. The 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door swung slightly with the æthership's motion, and the steward smiled as he came away from having delivered the third bottle of champagne to a tousle-headed and robe-wearing LaHaye.

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It's nice to see two people so in love, he mused, remember his own honeymoon.

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"Heart flush, queen high." Olivia said with a grin, laying down her cards on the bed. "Got you good." she added with satisfaction, reaching out to rake in the sizable pot of pennies they'd been building up over the last hand.

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"If only you had." LaHaye drawled. "Shame that I have four aces." Olivia looked at his cards as the Englishman laid them down, and her smile fell.

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"That's three hands in a row, and I'm just about cleaned out." she declared with some disgust. "Are you cheating?"

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"Cheating?" LaHaye enquired mildly, tilting an eyebrow as he started to shuffle the cards again. "Not as such. For instance, I'm not doing this.." This was a rapid shuffle or two, followed by a quickfire face-up deal that left Olivia with a pair of twos and LaHaye with a King-high straight. She folded her arms and stared hard at the unrepentant scoundrel, who shrugged and reshuffled, unapologetic. "No tricks like that. It's just that I have luck powers." he said simply.

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"Luck powers." Olivia said evenly.

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"Oh, indeed." LaHaye smiled as though nothing were amiss. "Did I not mention that?"

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"No. You didn't." Olivia replied, the temperature in her voice dropping.

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"Could have sworn I did..." LaHaye mused, then shrugged again and smiled at her. "Don't pout at me. You're the one that wanted to play cards."

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"I might not have, if you had told me you had luck powers." she said in a tone of voice very close to a growl. Drawing herself up with every ounce of dignity she could manage with that... that MAN grinning at her like a schoolboy who'd dropped a dead frog in her lap, Olivia rose from where she had been sitting on the bed, glaring down at the figure stretched across it.

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"Sorry." said LaHaye. "Must have slipped my mind."

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"I want to go to dinner, I think. I'll just get presentable." Olivia declared, before flouncing to the bathroom and pointedly closing the door on the laughing LaHaye. As she washed her hands and regarded herself in the mirror, she smiled despite herself as she remembered his grin. "Such a brat." she muttered as she smiled.

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Meanwhile, LaHaye bounded to his feet and got changed into the nicer of his current stock of suits with his usual commendable speed. Adjusting his tie, then his cuffs in the mirror, he smiled a little to himself, humming under his breath.

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