Eleven

“She’s crazy,” Aaric said flatly.

Alan’s eyebrows shot up. A grunt emanated from within.

Entering the compartment, he found her pale knees poking up in the air, head pointing toward the door and pillowed on a snarl of hair. The rest of her appeared from the back as she pulled herself up to her knees with effort, arms crossed over her chest.

“You should learn how to knock,” she squeezed out. Laying down, she sat up again with another grunt. As he folded himself cross-legged where he could see her profile, she lay flat on her back with an explosive breath and flung her arms out, narrowly missing his shin. “You think fifty-one’s enough? I think fifty-one’s enough.” She turned her head toward him, strands of brown hair plastered to her neck. “So are we going to talk about anything interesting today?”

“I suppose it would depend on your perspective.”

“Hmm.” She flipped over and braced her hands and toes on the planks and shakily lowered her body.

“Is there something you wish to discuss?” he asked, curious, settling his cheek into his hand.

“Oohph.” She paused her descent, arms locked, hair falling into her face. “What if we talked about you. You’re on a boat. There’s some people you don’t like. So who are the good-guys and who’re the bad-guys?” Her elbows bent, bringing her unsteadily closer to the planks.

“I wonder,” Alan said slowly, watching the line drawn from her skull to her heels, “if you ask suspicious questions on purpose.”

“I do?” She looked at him under her armpit. “I guess I’m almost bored enough to listen to your ar-pee-jee delusion. I’m kind of surprised you don’t want to not shut up about it.” She went up and down twice more with a measured bursts of air and steady pauses. On the next she suddenly dropped with a groan. “It is too humid to do this. I am melting.”

Pushing herself up, she straightened her legs and fell forward, grabbing her ankles. Alan wondered if she was trying to cripple herself. Her voice came from around her knees.

“So, whatcha wanna know today?”

“You said that you knew your mother,” he said, after a consideration.

“Well. Duh.” He restrained an eyebrow.

“Is she your born mother?”

“Not adopted,” she replied, spreading her legs and bending further at the waist. “Thanks for the extra water ration, by the by,” she said. “How long have you guys been out here on your epic adventure?” She glanced over at him.

Alan looked back dryly.

“What? I’m trying to be polite. You totally think I’m trying to spy,” she said, matching the soles of her feet together and pressing down on her knees. “Or you’re acting like you do. Can you come out of character, for like five minutes? Please?”

“Do you know your father?”

“Grew up with my step dad. I know where the other one lives, though. Wait. Why am I answering all of your questions and you’re not answering mine?”

“Ask less compromising questions,” he suggested.

“Okay, so can I go again, since you didn’t answer that one? Okay. Like… um… Wow, anything interesting falls under your category of spying. What if we made a deal?” Alan shifted in interest, an eyebrow lifting. “I will pinkie-swear not to do any stupid shit—” Tucking one leg into her groin she stretched the other out and leaned over it, “—and you give me something to do.”

He stared at her for a few breaths. Even with her sudden gush of words, he had no cohesive opinion of her. He did not know what motivated her or what she intended.

“You were very dedicated to your silence. Why speak so freely now?”

Drawing up both her legs, she gave him her full attention.

“Maybe I just reached my limit for angry stoicism. Look, Blondie, I’ll do anything. Almost anything. I’ll do your dishes. I’ll clean your toilets. I’ll mop your floors. I will dust your china. Just get me out of this goddamn room. I have cabin fever. You guys know about that, right?”

“It could be considered,” he allowed, watching her face.

“You, Blondie, are the definition of ambiguity.”

~~~

Ashur looked for Alan where he felt him in the sick cabin, after he and Litin had finished working on Wemir’s legs. Wemir hung curled half asleep in one of the hammocks, and to Ashur felt blurred and released after to two days of crippling tautness. Litin stoppered a flask and began carefully packing it away while Alan sat on the deck, cleaning a token staining of blood from a set of copper needles.

Glancing between the three of them, Ashur lingered in the middle of the cabin, crossing his arms over his chest and caught Alan’s attention.

“Are you available?”

“I suppose that depends on if I am still your hostage.”

Ashur rudely flicked his upper lip with a finger.

Scanning the cabin and looking up at Litin, Alan wiped off another needle, then slipped it into a leather case. Litin seemed finished, and held out his hand for the case as Alan climbed to his feet.

Following him out, Alan stepped into the map cabin when Ashur jerked his head toward it.

“The wind’s shifted. It’ll pound again soon. Aramyys sighted another flare landward.” Alan’s eyes sharpened.

“Did it mean anything to you?”

Litin strolled in the open door as Ashur made a curt negative, and sat in the curve of the spare hammock hanging opposite the maps. Whatever he needed didn’t seem pressing enough to interject with when they paused for him.

“I spoke with the woman already.”

“What other bizarrely useless information has she yielded?”

“She wants to scrub decks.” Ashur snorted, then waited for him to go on. A few breaths passed. Ashur looked back at him abruptly.

“No,” he said. Alan smiled, almost imperceptibly. “No.” His mouth widened, and his clear brown eyes laughed at him. “Not on my ship, Alan.”

“I want to see what she does.”

“Not on my ship.”

Alan said nothing. Ashur groaned, lacing his hands on top of his head. Litin watched the display in silent fascination.

“Do you have any real objection?” Alan asked, amusement set aside.

Not finding bloodstains and a conspicuously missing body.

Closing his eyes, Ashur groaned again deep in his throat, and caught the movement of a silent snort from the hammock.

What do you want?” he snapped at Litin, catching his intense pale eyes in his rawboned face.

I just like to watch you tie yourself in knots,” he replied, deadpan.

“I suspect she is not an assassin,” Alan said.

“That will make her no less like a skin rash.”

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