Just about all of the places that provide sample downloads of Semester Aboard allow people to read the first 10% free. That takes you just a couple of pages into Chapter Four. I figured, what’s the point of having chapters available on my blog if my readers don’t get anything extra? So, here it is, for the first time: all of Chapter Four!
If you haven’t read the previous chapters, I suggest you do!
I followed Dani’s gaze across the dock but didn’t see anybody coming toward us.
“Jon!” he yelled. “Hey, Jon!”
A man turned and looked at us. That was Jon? Aside from the fact he was wearing a business suit he didn’t look very boss-like. As he walked over to us I noticed that he didn’t even look that much older than us. He certainly didn’t strike me as old enough to run some company. Then again, he had, in Thomas’ words, taken care of him. Thomas had acted like he viewed Jon as a father figure more than an older brother, so he couldn’t be that close to us in age. He must have just been aging well. He had neatly combed black hair and dark eyes.
“Danio,” he said as he approached us. Even his boss called him that? He stopped in front of us and looked at me. “You must be Jennifer.”
Thomas joined us. “How was your trip?”
Jon turned to Thomas. “It was pleasant, we…” he trailed off and his eyes widened. “Oh my god, Thomas. It’s only been two weeks…” He started rapidly talking in a different language.
Thomas looked embarrassed and I was surprised when he replied in the same language. It looked like they started arguing. Thomas was apparently fairly fluent; he spoke quickly and never seemed to fumble for words. Jon was obviously worried about something and from their body language it looked like Thomas was defending himself. I looked over at Dani. He looked sort of angry. His jaw was clenched and dark blues crashed in his eyes. I wondered if he understood them.
“We’re being rude,” Thomas said suddenly in English. He was practically glaring at Jon and I knew their argument hadn’t been resolved.
Jon looked annoyed that Thomas had ended the conversation, but nodded. “My apologies,” he said to me, holding out his hand. “I am Jon Kiyosugi.”
“Jennifer Maddox,” I said. “Nice to meet you.” I took his hand and shook it. He bowed a bit as we shook hands.
“Shall we?” he asked, gesturing to the restaurant.
They sat us outside by the dock, overlooking the water. Thomas and Jon sat on one side and Dani sat next to me.
“What language was that?” I asked Thomas as we sat down.
“Japanese.” He picked up a menu and opened it.
That was that. The three of them started reading the menus and didn’t seem in any hurry to explain things. This was starting to get really annoying.
Then, Dani leaned forward and spoke quietly in another language. It sounded like he was speaking Japanese too! Thomas and Jon both looked shocked by what he was saying. Suddenly all three of them were whispering to each other. I felt a bit uneasy and my silly government theory seemed a bit less silly again. It made sense that Thomas and Jon could both speak it. Jon looked Japanese and for all I knew he had been born there. If he was like a father to Thomas he probably would have taught him. But, it was a bit of a stretch that Dani spoke it too. He spoke English, and Greek, and Japanese? And TS spoke Greek. I’d met a few tri, and even polylingual people before. But with all the other weird things going on the fact that all three of them were at least bilingual, in the same language no less, was very suspicious.
Even worse, they all kept glancing at me. They weren’t talking about me, were they? TS sat down in the chair on my other side, nodded to me, and then looked curiously at the others. I was about to say something along the lines of ‘Annoying when people speak languages you don’t know, isn’t it?’ hoping they’d stop speaking Japanese and start explaining things to me. Before I could TS’ eyes grew wide and he started speaking it too! This wasn’t a coincidence; not if all four of them could speak it. Maybe they all worked for a Japanese company; that would explain things. But that seemed like pretty serious work for a bunch of college students.
They stopped talking and all started staring at me.
“What?” I demanded.
“Let’s eat first,” Jon said. “We have things to discuss later.”
Was he kidding? I had waited all this time and he wasn’t going to talk to me until we finished eating?
They all picked up a menu and I had no choice but to do it too. The restaurant had a jungle-tiki theme and consequently the entire menu was a big splash of greens, browns, and reds. All of the dishes had silly names, but I noticed that it was pretty standard burger joint food.
“You want steak?” Thomas asked.
“Please,” TS said. He frowned at his menu and then shut it. “Thanks.”
Thomas nodded and studied his own menu. “Jungle Sacrifice? Twenty-four ounce steak with fries.”
TS grinned. “Perfect, thanks, Tom.”
That was a bit odd, but I didn’t get to think on it for too long; Jon waved a waitress over and we all ordered. They started up a conversation as soon as she left and kept it up until our food arrived. They chatted about all sorts of nonsense while we ate. Most of it was telling Jon about their time in Mexico. TS kept complaining that his steak wasn’t rare enough, which baffled me. I like my meat sort of rare, but I didn’t think his could have been any rarer without being raw. Thomas got a huge appetizer sampler which, to my surprise, he easily ate by himself. TS snagged some things off of it, but Thomas ate most of it alone. Considering how skinny he was I would have assumed he’d get a salad or something. He couldn’t possibly have eaten like this all the time. Dani got a big hamburger with tons of toppings and Jon opted for some spicy chicken. Had I not been annoyed by the fact they weren’t being very forthcoming, I would have enjoyed my wings, fries, and milkshake more. The food on the ship was good, but not great. The food in the ports, so far, had been amazing, but I did miss a good taste of home.
We were almost done when Jon said, “Fend, let’s make sure.”
An adorable little black bird came out of nowhere and landed on the table. It looked like a little hummingbird.
“Enjoying your dinner, Jennifer?” a male voice said.
I looked around for the source of the voice. “Who said that?” I asked. It hadn’t been nearly deep enough for TS and was a bit higher than Thomas and Jon too.
“Me! Right here!” The little bird hopped up and down.
For a moment, I just stared at it. The bird was talking. No, no that was impossible. It must have been a prank of some kind. “Wow,” I said. “That’s impressive.”
“What is?” Jon asked.
“The ventriloquist act.” I hadn’t seen any of their mouths move, but that was the only explanation. “And the trained bird. What is it, a hummingbird?” I hadn’t realized hummingbirds could be trained.
“I’m a raven,” the voice said indignantly.
“Right,” I laughed. “You could almost convince me the bird is talking, but I’m not so gullible that I’ll believe it’s a raven.”
They all exchanged a look. Jon said something softly in Japanese and they all nodded. Once again, before I could demand my answers, the waitress appeared. Jon took the check without hesitation.
“I can pay,” I said.
“No no, I invited you here,” he said calmly. He paid for all of us without batting an eye. Then, he stood and bowed to me. “Pleasure to meet you, Jennifer. I hope to see you again. Thomas, a moment?” With that, he walked away. Thomas got up and followed him.
For a moment I just sat in shock. He hoped to see me again? He sounded like he was just going to walk away without giving me any answers. I started to get up when Dani grabbed my arm.
“Relax. You’ll get a better explanation than you ever dreamed.” He let go and I had to rub my arm to warm it back up; his hand had been freezing.
I heard a growl and looked up in surprise. TS was glaring in the direction that Jon and Thomas had gone and was literally growling softly. He got up and Dani stood and blocked his way.
“He’s fine, let Jon talk,” Dani said. He didn’t seem at all concerned that TS could probably have crushed him. I noticed for the first time that he was actually just a bit taller than TS was. He sighed. “You know I agree with what he’s probably saying to Thomas.”
TS bit his lip and hung his head. “I do too,” he whispered, like it was almost painful to admit. “Tom’s really getting…” He hesitated, glanced at me, and then switched to Japanese.
Dani looked concerned and answered. Strangely enough, as they spoke, TS sounded like he was using Japanese and Dani seemed to be speaking Greek.
“Are you both speaking different languages?” I finally demanded.
They exchanged one last worried look, then both laughed. “My Japanese listening comprehension is a lot better than my speaking skills are,” Dani said.
“Same with my Greek,” TS said. “I’m sure it sounds insane, but it works.”
“How many languages do you two speak?”
“I speak seven,” TS said. “But my Greek is sort of shaky.”
“Four,” Dani said. “Japanese is my weakest, but that’s just because I’m lazy. English was harder to learn.”
“English is your second language?” I was pleased that I had guessed that.
“Third. Panth was my first.”
I frowned, I had never heard of that one. “What is that?”
Dani and TS glanced at each other. “Panthalassish,” Dani said. “I’ll explain later.”
More secrets. I was intrigued, but annoyed at yet another promise of ‘later.’ I noticed they were both looking past me and turned to see Thomas was back, without Jon.
“Right,” he said, “I’m going out. Shouldn’t take more than an hour, Jon found some er…” he glanced at me and said something in Japanese. Oh this was getting very frustrating. “I’ll meet you back on the boat.”
“Ship,” Dani said. Thomas tried to punch him and Dani snapped up his hand, caught Thomas’ wrist, and twisted it away. His smug look faded instantly and he frowned. He looked concerned.
Thomas yanked his hand free and looked away, like he was almost embarrassed. He cleared his throat, then turned to me. “Come to my room on the ship in an hour. We’ll explain everything.”
Wait, he was putting it off again? “That’s what you’ve been saying! How do I know you’ll really explain things this time?”
“Trust me,” he said. He looked off to the side and sighed. “I better go. See you in an hour.” He turned and left the restaurant.
Dani called his name, but Thomas ignored him.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to go with him,” TS said. “Jen, we’re in room 3120.” He and Thomas were roommates? I sighed; things just keep getting more and more interesting.
“Tethys,” Dani called. “Make sure he gets enough, I’m worried about him.”
“You know I will, Danio,” TS said.
“Back to the ship?” Dani asked me when TS jogged off.
We walked down to the dock in silence and stood to wait for the lifeboat. It was just leaving the ship and would probably take ten minutes to get to us.
“Are you really going to explain things?” I asked after a moment.
“We will, I promise,” Dani said. He looked around. “You know what, I’m going to go see if I can bother Charlie. I’m regretting not signing up for that sunset canal transit trip.”
I looked around; the sun was already going down. “His trip has probably already left.”
“Well, with any luck it’s not in a lock yet.” Dani paused in thought. “I could always…hmm no, Charlie would kill me if I tried to swim the canal.”
“Swim the canal?” I asked skeptically. “As in, swim through the locks?”
“Yeah. But, I won’t. I am going to try and catch up with that trip though. Maybe I can sneak on. I’ll see you in an hour in Thomas’ room.”
Dani glanced around, then dove right off the dock and into the water. Even though I knew that he had swum here from somewhere out in the ocean, my jaw dropped in shock. I looked around, waiting for him to surface, but he didn’t. It almost made me panic, but I had a feeling that he could probably hold his breath for a long time. For an insane second, I wondered if he even needed to breathe at all, but quickly discarded the idea. As cool as it would be if there really was something supernatural going on, I knew it wouldn’t be anything that neat.
I still hadn’t seen any sign of Dani when the lifeboat arrived and I accepted that he really had been serious about going to find the boat Charlie was on. After getting back on the ship I went back to my room and tried to pass the hour with a textbook, but just couldn’t concentrate. I ended up going out on deck to where Dani had first gone overboard. I had a great view of the port and could see the lights from the canal in the distance.
I turned to see Dani had joined me.
“Yeah,” I said. “What happened to finding Charlie?”
“Too late. The boat was already in the lock.” He shrugged. “Probably better that I stay here anyway.”
“To explain things?”
He nodded. “Actually, I’m going to go wait for Thomas. See you in…” He trailed off and looked for a clock. “Well, I’ll see you there.”
Dani left and I resisted the urge to follow and demand he start explaining. I spent the rest hour with all the questions that had been building up just running through my head. The one that kept coming back was ‘were they actually going to explain everything?’ Dani had obviously hurried off before I could ask him anything.
When the hour was up I headed down to 3120 and knocked. Thomas opened the door and I followed him in. TS and Dani were there too. A part of me that had been expecting Jon to be smuggled onto the ship to explain things was disappointed to see he wasn’t with them. Dani and TS were sitting on the same bed and Thomas sat down with them. I nervously sat down on the other bed across from them. I felt sort of like I was about to be interrogated or something. There were butterflies in my stomach from a mix of curiosity and concern. They were obviously going to tell me now, I could tell from their expressions. But, they all looked very serious. I had an odd feeling in my gut that something huge was about to happen.
“I’d like to wait for Char and Mariana,” Thomas said. “But, I think you’ll go nuts if we don’t explain now.”
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