“Thank you,” John said upon reaching the bay door and Jagati’s extended hand.
Her response was both nonverbal and quite vigorous as she hauled him through the opening hard enough that he came near to landing face first on the deck.
It was interesting to John how the air of the bay seemed colder than the air outside. ”Something I said?” he asked, righting himself and limping to join Rory, who was hauling in the pilot ladder.
In response she slung the shadow trader’s rifle over one shoulder and clomped past John to the opposite bulkhead, where she activated the bay intercom.
“Eitan,” she called into the mic, “we’re all aboard and good to go.”
“All aboard, aye,” the voice of the Errant’s fourth and final crew member—and the reason Tariq’s gambit had failed—crackled through the speaker. No sooner had he spoken than the drone of the engines increased to a high-pitched whine and the airship surged forward, at the same time angling into a steep ascent.
This gave John and Rory an interesting few moments as they were still pulling in the ladder, but with the aid of the handrails on either side of the door they managed to muscle the last rungs inside before slamming the door shut.
Almost immediately the acrid scent of the canyon was replaced by the sickly odor of burned flesh. John saw Rory’s eyes drop to the injured leg, but he said nothing and spun the lock into place. Then both men turned to where Jagati stood, watching the entire process.
No, John thought, less watching and more glaring.
“Do we have the cargo?” he asked, pointedly ignoring the glare.
“Safe and sound.” Rory nodded to where the leather satchel sat, nestled in the pile of coiled rigging.
“Barely.” Jagati crossed her arms over her chest and ramped up the glare.
“Best check on Eitan,” John told Rory. “And thank him for the save, however he managed it.”
“Aye to that.” Rory headed to the forward companionway.
“And stow the cargo,” Jagati added as he passed by.
“Leave the cargo,” John countered directly.
Rory, who had already turned and snapped up the satchel’s long strap, wordlessly dropped it, spun on his heel, and made for the companionway at double time. On the second step, however, he looked back at John. “Best not linger over your argument,” he said. “That leg needs cleaning, and sooner rather than later.”
John’s eyebrow quirked up. “Who said there’d be an argument?”
“Her face,” Rory said with a jerk of the chin towards Jagati.
John looked in her direction. “I see.”
“Oh yeah,” she said.
But Rory was already on the move, dashing up the stairs as fast as his long legs would take him.
John waited until the thudding of bootsteps faded before looking at Jagati. “So, what are we arguing about?”
Her eyes widened and her hands flew out in a frustrated gesture older than Fortune. “I can’t believe you even have to ask.”
His head tilted. “Not being a sensitive like Eitan, I can’t believe you can’t believe I even had to ask.”
The wide eyes narrowed. “Keep it up, Pitte, and this argument will turn into a fight.”
“In which case, I’d suggest you lose the hardware,” he said, nodding towards the rifle which had found its way from her shoulder to her hands. “Airships and plasma don’t do well together.”
John could almost hear her teeth grinding together. “I know how they feel.”
He didn’t smile. “But truly, I would like to know what it is you’re angry about. Because I know what I’m angry about—”
“You?” Jagati’s jaw dropped. “You have no reason—”
“—which is the way you regularly take untenable risks—”
“—to be angry, when it’s you—”
“—lying about the satchel’s whereabouts when—”
“—lying down and offering your throat up to some smogging risto thief just because—”
“—he had a gun to your head!”
“—he had a gun to my head!”
On that last, simultaneous exclamation, both froze.
At some point, John realized, they’d moved, each crossing to the center of the bay as each argument escalated, so by the time they’d reached the sticking point they were face to face, which meant he spied the moment she registered what he’d said, even as the memory of Tariq’s words fell silent between them.
I can see what he values.
As he watched, her expression went blank.
“He wasn’t going to kill me,” she finally said, adding a careless shrug for good measure.
“Of course not,” John replied with what he considered astounding control, “because the man who considers skinning people a rational act would never shoot an unarmed opponent.”
She didn’t answer, just shrugged again because either she didn’t agree or—and this was John’s true fear—didn’t care if Tariq were to have followed through on his threat.
Not that it would do any good to say so.
“Anyway,” he chose to say instead, “he was very serious about the satchel—”
“We should see what’s inside that swarming case,” she said at the same time.
They stared at one another, then, as one, turned and walked—or, in John’s case, limped—to the disputed satchel, still perched in its nest of ropes.
John hefted the bag by its worn leather strap while Jagati unbuckled the flap and peered in.
“Well?” John prompted. “What is it?”
“A lockbox,” she said, pulling out the object in question and holding the case up for him to see. It wasn’t particularly noteworthy, just a simple, molded metal box, roughly the size of a document case, or perhaps a jewelry chest.
“Locked, I presume.”
She ran her fingers over the latches. “Yes. Dammit.” She gave the box an annoyed shake before John could stop her. “I bet Tariq knows the combination.”
“Probably we shouldn’t go back and ask for it.”
“Probably not,” she agreed. “But maybe we could break into it? Or Rory could, I bet.”
John considered the possibility. No doubt if he set Rory loose, the clever-minded mechanic would find a way into the box. “I’ll consider it. But for now...” He held out the open case.
With obvious reluctance, Jagati slid the box back into the bag and John slung it over his shoulder. “So,” he began.
“Right,” she said, then stepped back, possibly to make room for the awkward silence rising between them.
Rather than wait for it to grow, John threw her a bone. “Eitan will need the coordinates to Nike graphed—”
“Rory won’t settle unless that leg’s looked after—” she said, her words once more overlapping his.
They paused, eying one another warily.
“I’ll just,” he said, jerking a thumb upwards, “go to the infirmary.”
“And I’ll get up to the bridge,” she said, spinning and striding to the stairs with an eagerness perhaps more desperate than Rory’s had been minutes before.
John waited for her footsteps to recede, in part because he wanted to give her a decent lead and in part because his leg ached fiercely.
As he ascended, however, he felt the echoing pulse of another ache… an old one, and familiar, and caused by no visible wound.
But because this pain was old and familiar, he expected it would soon sigh its way back to the hollow space beneath his heart where it dwelled, and there remain.
No bother to anyone at all.
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