Fourteen

Recon day nine, they let her into the cabins.

The two-day fish frenzy had wound down, and now there was dried fish, smoked fish, fried fish, roasted fish, fresh fish. Fish, it’s what’s for dinner. Hannah had grown up where the smell of feedlots was the smell of money, and the only fish she’d really eaten had worn twice its weight in deep-fried batter. There was still fish poop under her fingernails.

Coming inside from the outside door, the first cabin to the right had shelves and cubbies of what appeared to be rolled up animal skins, some weird metal gadgets, a hammock, and an actual table, which had been covered with a big hide. There was a window, rectangular, horizontal, and narrow, which possibly disqualified it from being called a porthole. The morning air was chilly, and damp, and there was still some pinkish orange to the sky. A crew-cut-blonde pirate hung out by the door with his arms crossed, sporting hefty biceps, watching her like he was faintly angry. It looked like this was where the good shit was, but she wasn’t even going to try to rummage. That was a good way to get locked back up.

Hannah got the broom into all the spaces she could, but despite the relative clutter, there wasn’t much in her debris pile at the end it all. Taking a rag, she got all the gaps in the boards, dusted the single sturdy leg of the table, and used her fingernail to push the cloth in all the creases, making the work last as long as she could. Her knees hurt a little from kneeling on the floor, but other than that, it was not the most unpleasant menial labor she had ever done.

These people had to have some serious money. Everything was made of actual wood, no fake plywood paneling, and it didn’t look like they’d used power tools. Handmade shit was expensive, and it looked like the entire boat was handmade.

The next room on the right had another four hammocks, two windows, a long table at the back, a few bundles hanging from the ceilings, and a bunch of chests lining the walls. Her pirate-guard had left her alone, which gave her the impression there wasn’t anything to fuck with in here. Or it meant someone was watching through a hole in the wall to see if she would try. This cabin was even cleaner than the last one.

Without further instructions, Hannah moved on to the next two rooms, and her chaperone poked his head in occasionally. There was something fresher about the smell of the wood here, a familiar-yet-not prick in the back of her nasal cavity instead of her nose. When she sniffed the wood up close it almost disappeared, then came back when she wasn’t thinking about it. She had reached the other side of the hallway, and came to a room that had the door closed. Pirate-guard suddenly pushed himself away from the wall where he’d been leaning.

“Not that one.”

“Okay,” she agreed, skipping it for the next room.

Hot light cut through the windows, revealing columns of airborne floaties. Nothing was really different about this room except that there was a pile of blankets in one corner, and a ratty hammock. Pirate-guard hung out by the door, glowering. Eyes on the floor, Hannah drifted into a highly mathematical pattern of step, sweep, step, sweep, step, sweep, trailing a faint ridge of dust behind her.

A silent alarm bell went off at the base of her skull when the door slid shut.

Before it really registered she had come to a stop, not looking up, watching him move closer in her peripheral vision.

When he grabbed for her arm, she side-stepped, eyeing the door over his shoulder.

“Hey. Not interested.” She jabbed him in the chest with the broom. He barely reacted, kept boxing her in toward the wall.

When it occurred to her that she was in deep shit, Hannah went for the eyes. He snatched one wrist, flinching as her other thumb gauged into the top of his eyelid. A stream of sunlight from one of the windows turned her angle of vision into glare, making him him a flat outline. Hannah kicked for his balls and he slammed his knee into the soft spot of her hip, sharp, stabbing impact as he got a hold of her other wrist.

“Back. Off.”

He was shorter than her, it shouldn’t be that hard to get him off, but she creaked as he pulled her lower against the wall, knee resisting, ankle bending too far. He didn’t say anything. His face was close, close enough to feel his sweat, to see the definition of little blonde hairs on his chin but no stubble. He didn’t try to kiss her. She was about to bite him. Wrenching her around, he shoved her face-first into the wall, then kicked her in the tailbone.

Spasming, every muscle in her body locked up for that one, long second. Nerves fired, fibers sputtering, uncoordinated, twitching, falling, can’t push, can’t kick, hand squirming under waist of her pants, foreheads cracking together, something to grab, shoving—

Something ripped, got hit, hard, and it wasn’t her.

Imbot ba lashma, shuk nultf?[1]

Eyes not quite processing space, movement, she saw another guy, black, stocky, standing over her, holding the blonde one in an armlock, sweating, breathing hard. Her pulse was pounding through the top of her head, behind her eyes, under her solar plexus.

The blonde one lunged for her with a wordless, straining growl and the new guy wrestled him off a step, muttering.

Mina ormiet. Mina…[2]” His voice was high.

Hannah triangulated the position of the broom, and the door, eyes glued on them, muscles preparing without moving. Jerking his berserk friend toward the door, the black guy caught her looking at him.

“You don’t say anything, understand?”

“Yeah.”

He was still breathing hard. “Yapas. On my mother and my aunt. Yapasfe.” Pinning him against the wall, the new guy jabbed a finger at her. “Nothing, to anyone.”

“Not a word,” she agreed.

He peered out of the crack of the door, then wrestled the berserk guy out. Hannah heard another door thump shut.

~~~

There was nowhere particularly flat to lay. And it was damp. And sticky. And hot.

There was no way to keep anyone out. In the dark she laid with her feet toward the door so she could kick.

Suddenly, she honed in on a murmur, unable to tell if it was a voice or the almost imperceptible background noise of the water. There was a scrape, not the door, and another murmur, sharper, like a laugh. A murmur in return, covered by a creak and groan as the boat rolled. Her whole body waited for the door to open, while her brain said it probably wasn’t going to happen, her stomach wondering if she should sit up to be ready, waiting, knowing that staying awake, paranoid, was not going to leave her in the kind of shape to deal with this crazy bullshit.

She kept listening for the voices, straining for them when she couldn’t hear them anymore.


  1. On my mother and my aunt, are you permanently cracked?
  2. We are helpless before the angry earth.

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