Jinna eventually gravitated back to the galley, which looked much better than when she and John had cobbled together tea, earlier. She made a closer inspection of several dings in the cabinetry, and found some were older than a few hours, telling her the Errant had seen more than a little action.
Then again, so had the Errant’s crew. And so, for that matter, had she.
Like most Fordians, Jinna had grown up with the sound of air-raid klaxons, under the constant threat of attack from Coalition forces.
Nike might have its issues—Killian smogging Del chief among them—but, like most of Avon, Nike had also escaped the overt destruction Ford was still digging out from.
And now, thanks to Killian smogging Del, she was on the run from the home she’d just begun to build for herself and her child.
She felt the frustrated tears starting and, rather than allow them to fall, huffed out a determined breath while also giving her hormones the order to stand down.
As if in tune with her thoughts, the baby within danced a jig. “You’re right,” she said, rubbing the spot where a hand, foot, or elbow was poking out, “enough moping.”
To distract herself from any lurking mopes, she commenced poking through the cupboards and the (yay) functioning cold-unit for whatever might become a meal for the crew. Cooking had a way of calming her, and might just keep her from kicking Rory in the shins the next time he came in range.
On that not-so-soothing thought, she forced herself to focus on her inventory, which uncovered a stash of dried udon noodles, dehydrated tomatoes and mushrooms, some kale, a tin of beans, and a lump of hard cheese.
No fresh herbs but some dried basil, garlic, and thyme in Corps-stamped containers huddled behind the tea stash.
Not quite Kit’s larder, but she could work with it, and, pleased to see the Errant’s water tanks were full, started a pot of noodles to boiling.
Since the fight with John, and murdering one of their few surviving bowls, Jagati had been prowling the ‘ship like a bear dog, cleaning up more of the wreckage and generally avoiding people.
Her wanderings eventually brought her back to the third deck, where the sound of activity filtered out of the galley. Shoulder to the doorframe, Jagati peered around the corner and huffed out a breath. “Jerk.”
The red-and-gold head spun towards the door and Jagati shook her own. “Not you, me. Jumping at shadows.”
“Understandable,” Jinna said, turning back to her work.
Jagati came the rest of the way into the galley, snapped an uncooked piece of dried udon, and sat down at the table, where she started to crunch it.
“How does that taste?” Jinna asked, looking over her shoulder, hands frozen above the bamboo cutting board, knife in one, a bunch of dried tomatoes in the other.
“Like nothing. It’s all about the crunch,” she said, smushing the bits together to form a pasta-spit patty, which she showed to Jinna.
“That is so gross.” Jinna grimaced before turning back to the cutting board. “When this one’s a toddler,” she said, jerking her chin down at her belly, “I’ll be bringing her… or him… to learn from the master.” The blade in her hands minced with brisk efficiency, until the shriveled lengths of tomato were a pile of small bits, next to the brownish bits Jagati recognized as the mushrooms she’d ignored last time she cooked.
Jinna took both piles and tossed them into the cast-iron pan at her left elbow, where oil had already been heating. A small pile of dried herbs followed, scenting the air with fragrance. Jinna gave this a stir with a spoon that had survived the rampage, set it aside, and began to chop the kale.
Jagati watched with a bemused fascination. Jinna seemed to be not only adept with the kitchen stuff, but it looked as if she might actually enjoy it. “As long as you wait until it’s a toddler,” she said, going back to Jinna’s last statement. “Those tiny balls of flesh freak me out.”
Jinna’s face paled and her hand hesitated over the board. “There’s an image.” She glanced down at her stomach, shook her head, and finished the lump of kale as she added, “I don’t think I’ve spent quality time with a baby since before I joined up.” She tossed the veg into the pan, turned, and added a couple handfuls of udon noodles to the simmering water. “My cousin had twins, though, and they were as volatile as a crystal det mine, without the fail-safes.”
“It isn’t the volatile that freaks me, it’s the ‘I could drop and break it’ that does. Small, squishy, I hear that they have a soft spot on their heads and if you drop them on it or hit it against something you break ‘em.”
“Ha,” was Jinna’s weak reply. “So, no squishy, breaky babies for you. Check.” She swirled the noodles, poked at the veggies.
“Breaking things is my skill set. Why I joined up,” Jagati said with a shrug. “That and Dodge getting the smog bombed out of it.”
“Same here,” Jinna said. “I mean, the getting bombed out part. Except it was Macintosh instead of Dodge. Up the Fordians,” she murmured.
“Up the Fordians,” Jagati echoed. “You were Airborne during the war, weren’t you?” she asked, studying the other woman. Rory didn’t talk about much of his time on the York, but she knew he’d met Jinna while he served on the troop carrier.
Jinna nodded. “Part of the 72nd, up through the battle of Allianz.”
“The Desmos fought at Santandar.”
Both women were silent as they took a mental trip to those last days of fighting.
“All in all,” Jinna said, brought back by the sizzling pan, “it’s nice to be making dinner instead of crystal det. Speaking of, do you know where the tin opener is?” She glanced over her shoulder towards an unopened tin of Great Fujian beans.
Jagati grunted and stood up, moving to Jinna’s left to root around in one of the drawers. Having often thought about hitting John in the head with the pointy bit, she put her hand to the opener quickly, and in a few moments was removing the lid from the tin.
As she presented the beans, she looked down at the exceptionally pale skin of the woman beside her. And she was growing paler.
Jagati set down the tin and squinted at a blue vein showing in Jinna’s neck. “Ahhh, are you okay?” Even to her, asking ‘are you really that color’ seemed tactless.
“What?” Jinna looked up. She’d been lowering the heat source under the water, which had hit a rapid boil. “I don’t—” She looked again at the water, now boiling over despite the lowered heat. “That’s not right,” she said. Then she looked up, patting a hand over her heart. “What’s our altitude?”
“We cruise at eight thousand feet,” Jagati said. “But even if Eitan took us higher, the pressurization would…should compensate.” But even as she spoke Jagati’s head tipped up, her ears tuning in to realize she couldn’t hear the familiar burr of the vents. “Uh-oh…”
The thud of boots in the corridor heralded company. She looked up to see John poke his head through the starboard door. “I think there’s something wrong with the—”
Jinna’s knees buckled, and she dropped.
“—ventilation system,” he finished, rushing into the galley.
Already within arm’s reach, Jagati caught the other woman around the waist before her squishy spot hit the counter, and lowered both herself and the unconscious Jinna to a sitting position on the floor as slowly as a limp, heavily pregnant woman would allow.
“Get the water,” she said, looking up and wondering why John appeared to be covered in little black dots. She blinked, and watched as he altered his course for the stove and dialed down the heat for both pans, took the boiling pot and thrust it into the sink, where it could pose no further threat.
He then turned and crossed to the port door, where the airship’s radio hung. “I’m going to go check with Rory on the bridge,” he said, his own breathing labored to Jagati’s ears. “It may be Galileo’s people sabotaged the altim— The alt— ” he paused, blinked, shook his head, and looked back at Jagati, huddled on the floor with Jinna because it was too much trouble to try and move.
“I’m sorry,” he said, blinking, “but are there two of you?”
Wondering if Jinna could be heavy enough to be constricting her breath, Jagati sipped in some air. “Two of me? Or two of us?” She jerked her head at Jinna.
“What?” he asked. “Never mind, I’ll just…radio—” He reached for the hand piece, missed. Reached again. This time he caught the hand piece, which made him smile giddily at Jagati, right before he dropped face first onto the deck, still holding the radio’s hand piece, so the cord ripped out of the box.
“Ahhh, crap.” Jagati struggled to free herself from the weight of the pregnant one, meaning to help John, when movement made her look up to the entryway.
“Whoa,” she gasped out as a man she’d never met entered the galley.
As hallucinations went, this one was a queen’s dream.
But why would her hallucination be wearing a breather?
She tried a smile on the tall, dark, and oh-so-handsome illusion, but as he neared, the face wavered, then faded, then…
From where he stood at the starboard galley door, Galileo watched the tall woman slump into unconsciousness.
At least, he assumed she’d blacked out, for he dared not risk a Sensing, not after his earlier labors, and not after using his ability to pressure Rory into bringing the Errant to ten thousand feet.
With Ysabel disabling the vents, it was only a matter of minutes before Pitte and his remaining crew suffered the effects.
But Galileo suffered a few of his own, in the form of the buzzing at the base of his skull that threatened to turn into a migraine, if he were not careful.
Fortunately for him, he wasn’t working alone.
“This the last of ‘em?” Colin, his own breather in place, entered the galley.
“Who is on the bridge?”
“Ysabel and Mary. The mechanic’s out. He won’t cause no trouble.”
“Very well.” Galileo gestured to John. “Lock them up as we discussed. Quickly. As soon as you have them contained, Ysabel can start the ventilation working again.”
“Yes, sir.” Colin saluted and moved off to deal with John.
Galileo crossed to where Jagati slumped over the one detail he’d not planned for.
Crouching, he reached out to brush aside the red-gold hair.
Syl’s had been wavy, and a few tones deeper, for she’d taken after Da, while Galileo favored their mother.
Light and shadow, my twins, Mum had said.
Except Syl was gone, and Mum with her, leaving Galileo a lonely shadow, hovering over this echo of Syl.
“Little Mother,” his deep voice rang hollow through the breather, “I wish you hadn’t been here.”
With a sigh, he removed the breather and placed it over Jinna’s blueing lips, then, as the roseate bloom on her cheeks began to ease, lifted her into his arms. “Come along, then,” he told her, rising with the barest show of effort, “we’ll get you settled somewhere safe until this is all over.”
And as he carried her out, he began to whistle a tune—an old one that Syl had favored.