This website is ad free, and depends upon the generosity of its readers (that’s you!) to keep posting, so if you are enjoying, please Like, Subscribe, or Share on your favorite social platform, using the handy buttons below. Lastly, if you have the means, you may buy the authors a coffee. Or buy an ebook. Every little thing helps.
“I hear…singing?” Ysabel’s head turned up to the bay door.
Jagati tuned her ears upwards, from which a soft alto emerged.
“…deep in the lea ‘neath a lonely sun…”
“Sounds like Jinna.” She tightened her grip on Ysabel. “You owe me twenty,” she added, hoping the smug covered the tremors. Cold, bleeding, and fought out, she was more than ready to be back aboard.
The line jerked and slipped down a few feet.
“… to gather honey for my love…”
“Hey! Watch it!” she yelled up to the door.
“Sorry,” John called down.
“But the meadow it was parched…”
“What he said,” Rory added as the line jerked up again.
“There are two of you,” Jagati complained upon reaching the lower edge of the door. “How hard can this be?”
With one last, long heave, Rory and John pulled both women up and inside, and she saw how hard it could be, for John’s right arm was bleeding, as was Rory’s left hand, and the mechanic’s thumb sat at a bad angle.
“...no flowers grew…”
She started to ask what happened, but the expression on John’s face had her breath catching in her throat before it erupted in a hiss of pain because she could feel a bruise forming under his grip on her arm. “Hey.” She poked his shoulder. “It’s good. I’m good. We’re all good.”
“What?” He looked down. “Right. Ahh… Right,” he said, and with a long, slow exhalation eased his fingers away from her bicep.
Freed, Jagati turned to assess the rest of the crew, but found Ysabel blocking her view and wearing a deadpan expression.
She was also holding out two ten stars, which Jagati took with much less enthusiasm than she’d anticipated.
Looking past Ysabel’s shoulder, she found Colin and Mary both locked in the port side D-ring that had first held John and Jagati.
Colin looked dazed and Mary, while awake, was sporting a swollen eye and a disgusted expression, both of which made Jagati’s heart go pitty-pat and her lip curl in satisfaction.
Then her gaze swept amidships, past the water pallet—it was missing its post which, she assumed, explained the falling cask from earlier—to starboard. There Eitan stood, arms crossed tightly over his chest, staring down at the deck where Jinna knelt next to an unmoving Galileo.
She was still singing, a dirge of Earth’s ending.
“…they fell by the score, to gather no more…”
“Is he…” Jagati looked up at John, then at Eitan. “Did you…”
“No,” John said, slamming the jump door closed. “He’s just not…”
“He is not here,” Eitan, still staring at Galileo’s inert form, finished the sentence for John, who trailed off with a helpless gesture.
“Then don’t,” John said to Eitan, holding his hands out wide. An invitation. A choice. “Be the man you chose to be. Not the man they made you.” He watched as a small war took place in Eitan’s eyes, and John had no idea which side was going to win, not until Eitan raised the staff.
“Go on,” Galileo prompted, his voice thick with tears and blood. “Finish it. Don’t listen to him,” he said as he jerked his chin towards John. “Don’t play the coward now, love.”
And with a sobbing roar, Eitan slammed it down again, to land mere millimeters from Galileo’s head.
“…though all’s quiet in the glen, sleep will… will… come no more…”
Jinna’s voice hitched as the song came to a close, and Rory almost dropped the harness Ysabel had just handed him, but Eitan was already kneeling next to her, taking her hand.
“Thank you,” he told her.
She shook her head, knuckling at her eyes before she met his gaze. “Why that song?”
Galileo, flat on his back, blinked away tears of pain and disappointment both. “You should have done it,” he whispered as the tears streamed down his face to mix with the blood. “I wanted you to do it.”
“Why would you want such a thing?” Syl asked, stretching out at her brother’s side.
“Because I’ve lost,” he told her, brushing a hand over her hair. “Everything I wanted for us…it’s gone.”
“There is no us,” Eitan, his expression a perfect mix of fury and confusion, pulled Galileo’s eyes from Syl’s.
“But we’ve each other,” Syl pointed out, ignoring Eitan. “’Tis all I ever needed, was to have you at my side.”
“Keepers, but I’ve missed you,” he said, blinking at the tears.
“I…” Eitan began, but stopped himself as, at his feet, he watched Galileo’s eyes turn inwards. Crouching, he set the staff aside to lay his hand against Galileo’s shoulder.
“Sure you’ve no reason t’miss me.” Syl’s fist pounded at Leo’s shoulder with a familiar thump. “I’ve been right here all along, haven’t I?”
And her face, her lovely face which would never age, split into an impish grin.
And with those words, that smile, all the cares—the ambition and anger and resentment which had moved Galileo since his thirteenth year—washed away.
Syl was at his side. The rest was just…noise.
As he thought this, she snuggled close, just as she had when they were children together, and, as when they were children together, she started to sing one of Fortune’s oldest, saddest songs, because she loved the tune that much.
“I walked deep in the lea ‘neath a lonely sun…”
Eitan’s hand dropped from Galileo’s shoulder and his breath came out in a shuddering gasp as the echo of a girl’s song rang in his ears.
Jagati let out a huff of breath, stupidly grateful the fight with Ysabel had been just that—a fight. She took a hitching step closer to the group amidship, but her leg almost buckled, reminding her this was the first time since being stabbed that she put weight on it. With the battle over and shielded from the cold, she belatedly noticed the spreading damp over her pant’s leg. At least they were dark brown, so it didn’t show.
Ysabel, meanwhile, was handing the smogging calculator over to John.
“If you don’t mind?” He gestured to his right and Ysabel turned and strode forward, to where Rory was awkwardly looping the shackles he’d worn back through the starboard D-ring. She joined him, looked over the general carnage, and gave a nod. “I’m impressed,” she said generally, seemingly unaffected by the reversal of fortune.
“Told ya,” Jagati said.
John, slinging the calculator’s bag over one shoulder, looked over. “Are you five?” he asked.
“Sometimes.” She shrugged, took another step, and winced.
“What happened?” His eyes dropped to her leg and his face changed, the skin tightening over the bones, and his usually warm eyes flattening.
“Knife,” she said with a shrug. “No big.” But her nonchalant denial choked off as his eyes darted up to meet hers.
“I’d like to know what happens now,” Mary commented, oblivious to any tension she wasn’t creating.
“Now we hoist anchor and get you to the authorities,” John told her, not looking away from Jagati. “You need to get to the med—”
“And when you say authorities,” Mary cut in again, “do you mean the Nike police?”
“Why?” he asked, finally giving Mary his attention. “Do you have a district minister in your pocket?”
Mary’s negligent shrug of an answer made Jagati suspect she might have the entire parliament fetching pollen on her behalf.
“Then you’ll be sorry to hear we’ve made other arrangements,” John told her.
“Pity,” Mary sighed. “Though I bet there’s still time to enjoy ourselves,” and here she looked from John to the shackle on her wrist and back.
There was no Gideon around to fuel the hatred that flared up in Jagati, which meant this red haze was all her. “I vote we open the door again. You hold her by the feet, I shoot her. No harm, no—John? Captain?” She cut off her own quip as John was already crossing the bay to where Mary and Colin were locked.
“Think,” he said, looming over the blonde. “Think carefully about how far you want to push me.”
“Why? Will you hit me again? Because that’s not a deal-breaker—”
“Since you targeted me back in Nike,” he interrupted her, “you have lied, endangered my crew, imprisoned an innocent woman—”
“Not that innoc—”
“ —threatened her child, and taken my airship. My. ‘Ship.” He leaned in and Mary, swallowing, leaned back. “That last falls under piracy, according to aeronautical law. That same law states I’d be within my rights to slit your throat. So again… think.”
All the hate drained out of Jagati as if the captain’s rage had devoured it, and she stared, agape, at a version of John she’d never witnessed.
Meanwhile, the bay around John and Mary had gone silent, and might have remained that way, except for a soft sigh that emerged from Galileo, followed by a sniff from Jinna.
“Sorry,” she said as Rory helped her to her feet. “Hormones. Mostly.”
The young people’s motion started John back to life. “Rory.” he turned to face the mechanic. “I expect the Al-Jinn will be within contact range by now. Can you head to the bridge and radio Tariq for our landing coordinates?”
“Tariq?” Ysabel asked.
“Yes.” John looked at Tariq’s former first mate. “While you were selling yourself to the highest bidder, your captain and I were making our own arrangements.”
“Clever,” was Ysabel’s response.
“Yup, making you look not so clever, isn’t he?”
She looked at Jagati. “At least I am willing to take a risk for what I want.”
“Now what does—”
“Rory?” John tilted his head towards the companionway. “To the bridge if you please. Eitan.” He looked at the soldier, who was still looking at Galileo. “Perhaps you could keep watch down here? And Jinna...” he paused, looking down at the young woman, as if uncertain what came next.
“I’ll go with Rory, if it’s all the same,” she said. “Be an extra hand until we get his fixed.”
“Of course, and thank you…for everything,” he said, for he’d no doubt their escape, narrow as it was, would have failed utterly without her help.
Once she and Rory had started for the companionway, he turned again. “Jagati,” he began. “Oh, there you are,” he said with a slight start, for it appeared that while he’d been doing the needful, she’d snuck to the middle of the deck to join him.
“Yes, sir?” she asked, with a vigorous (and he suspected, sarcastic) salute to the heart.
“Jagati,” he said. Again.
“Yes, sir,” she replied. Again.
“Oh… the hell with it,” he said, stepping forward.
And then his arms were around her and his lips on hers and somewhere in the near distance Rory’s voice was rising in a cheer but none of that mattered because he had Jagati in his arms.
The shock was enough to strike Jagati dumb, then how incredibly good it felt washed over her, and the rest of everything fell away.
Or, not quite everything, because while the bay and the cold and the irritation dissipated into a soft, warm fog, John’s worry-filled voice, calling her name, followed her all the way down into the dark.