“What…? Okay, Blondie, this is creepy even for you. Dude, are you naked—” Hannah pushed herself up, fumbling with the hammock, and froze when she saw the glowing embers of his eyes. “Oh my fuck.”
“I found you.”
Hannah scrambled out of the hammock, tripped on the edge and cracked her knee hard on the floor. Rustling, thumping as the commotion woke everyone else up. She jumped to her feet, hem of one pantleg ripping on a splinter, backing away.
“Get the fuck away from me.”
“Why are you afraid?” Blondie asked, taking a step toward her, the whites of his eyes freakishly luminescent in the dark, lit by fire. It was just contacts. Hell, it probably wasn’t even real enough for there to be contacts involved.
“What the fuck about get the fucking fuck away from me do you not understand, moron?” Some of the guys started to crowd in a wary perimeter around them in the hammock-cluttered dim. She saw someone’s sword hanging above one of the empty hammocks, snatched it up. Someone cursed. Hannah fumbled the sheath off, pointed the surprising weight of it at him.
Someone was coming up behind her. She shifted, not quite able to see, not taking her eyes off Blondie. He took another step toward her, and she touched the point of the sword to his bare chest.
It didn’t inspire the same sense of confidence as an M4 carbine. But he stopped.
“We need to talk,” Blondie said.
Hannah held the distance of the sword between them for about ten seconds. Then she dropped it with a ringing clang and bolted for the ladder. She was up faster than she’d ever been able to climb the thing, hauling herself up on deck, running as she heard the creak of the ladder behind her. Guys on deck were staring at her and it didn’t matter, and then she ground to a halt, almost lurching over.
There was water in every direction.
From the ship to the horizon, as far as the eye could see.
“Fuck,” she breathed, staring out. There was something wrong with her brain, something stuttering, peeling apart like an onion. She was seeing things in two layers, one painted like watercolor over the other, and that was crazy she was making it all up.
“You don’t remember.” Blondie’s voice came from behind her, and she jerked around to see that he had stopped with about ten feet between them. She actually considered jumping overboard, but seeing as she had no guarantees anyone would bail her out, that was practically suicide.
“Blondie, I don’t know what you’re on, but I’m not playing along.”
“I’m not him,” he said. Of course it was all Blondie, except for the eyes, and his hair wasn’t brushed, and he was naked as a goddam bluejay.
“Great, so you decided to have an outbreak of MPD. Fabulous. Don’t take it out on me.”
“Ask yourself why you’re afraid,” he said, moving closer, moving like he was not fucking balls out naked in front of God and everybody, as if there wasn’t something wrong with that.
Her hand dropped to her hip, to a pistol that wasn’t there, that hadn’t been there for seven years.
You can’t run. You can’t hide.
“Look, you want to play twenty questions again?” Her smile felt weak. “Fine. This time, you get the clothes before we talk.”
Ignoring the stares, Hannah knelt beside the hatch, gripping the worn edge for balance as she leaned over and yelled, “Trich!”
She heard movement, shuffling, then she saw a sturdy figure at the base of the ladder, face tilted toward her.
“Yeah?” he called up.
“I need a witness.”
That stopped anyone else from asking her what the hell was going on, because she didn’t have an answer for them. It had been four days since the ship had gone all Epcot Center, and they hadn’t moved since. The little mast on the second story deck was snapped in half. The only reason she hadn’t been thrown into a wall during the episode was because she’d been in her hammock. No one knew anything except that Ashur was in critical condition and there was something wrong with Alan that no one wanted to talk about. She’d basically stayed out of the way while men scurried around plastering stuff with black tar, listening to the language of echoes as they knocked on the hull with mallets.
Blondie returned, with his pants but no shirt. And now it was Blondie, her, and Trich sitting on the bow of the boat. Blondie’s eyes didn’t glow anymore, washed out by the glare of the clouds, but they were so very, very orange, with little black specks that seemed to move. He looked at Trich, the faintest hint of a lifted eyebrow, and Trich all but flinched.
“I refuse to talk to you without the presence of my attorney,” she said flatly. His mouth quirked up on one side, a faint bite to the inside of his lip. Trich looked at her sideways. But someone besides her needed to be there, because maybe he could figure something out, and so no one could accuse her of withholding information. “So you’re not Alan. Who the hell are you, then?”
“You already know me.”
“And now you sound like Jesus. You lose points for that. Now, in your own words, please explain what the hell is going on.”
He watched her for a long time, sitting crosslegged so perfectly relaxed and so perfectly straight, hands on his knees, that he made her think of a Zen Master, or the baboon in the Lion King. She didn’t ask again. Angry silence could work wonders. The cool wind raised goosebumps and hairs along her arms, made her nipples poke through her shirt. The air smelled damp, like it wasn’t quite ready to rain. Blondie was covered in goosebumps too, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“What do you remember?” he asked instead.
“Have we not already established that I have no idea what you’re fucking talking about?”
She was lying. She knew she was lying. Which was completely illogical. But the déjà vu was almost suffocating.
He was looking at her like he knew her, and he didn’t have the right.
“We met,” he said slowly, “very far away. We knew each other, and then you left, and then you were lost. I’ve been searching for you.”
“Uh huh. And you’ve demonically possessed Blondie for what reason?” She scratched the scar on her shoulder under the strap of her shirt, stealing a quick glance at Trich. He was doing his best stoic biker face, which was probably a bad sign.
“He offered himself to me. I thought the joining could make this easier for everyone else.”
“And what does that all mean?”
“He may be destroyed.”
Hannah blinked, made a humorless noise, scraping her bangs out of her eyes. “Great. So now that’s my fault.”
“None of this is about you,” he said, moving his eyes in a gesture that encompassed the whole ship, his body.
“Yeah, I don’t think everybody here’s gonna see it that way. You come to visit me, nearly sink their ship, demonically possess one of their leaders, maybe killing him in the process, and they’re gonna fucking blame me.”
His irises seemed to tumble in on themselves, light shifting inside them.
“Jesus,” she said, shielding her face with one hand. “The eyes are tripping me out.”
Trich hadn’t said a thing, and she wondered how he was taking all this. It was too ridiculous. If this situation were even remotely real she would start watching her back, but it was too fucking stupid, too fucking fantasy to take seriously, except she still had the very real itch to shoot demonic Blondie between the eyes and get the hell out of dodge.
“What do you want?”
“We have to talk,” he said, and her eyes widened.
“We are fucking talking.”
“No. We need to talk about why you died.”
“You stupid piece of trash, what have you done.”
“I haven’t done shit.”
“I will kill you.”
“You’re a figment of my fucking imagination! How are you supposed to do that?”
“Tell me what you know!”
“I didn’t do shit and I don’t know shit. I’m crazy, remember?”
“Ashur, this is not the way to accomplish this.”
“Shut your mouth, girl.”
Felghaim peeled his ear away from the wall —it was thinner here between the map cabin and the sick cabin.
“He is really gonna torture her this time,” he said, leaning against the wall, thick matted strands of his hair digging into his back. Brac still had the side of his head glued there, dark eyes intent. Ashur’s muffled shout forced its way through the wood, tangled with Crazy yelling back.
“Nemasd try to talk to Juele?” Solme asked, arm in a sling, his sandy skin showing the bruising in livid detail.
“Acted like he wasn’t even there.”
“I,” said Gerril, leaning back in one of the hammocks, broad feet braced on the floor, “am trying to remember how we got ourselves into this. First there was Ashur —skinny thing— but then there was Fis, and Fis had bets.” He rubbed a thumb and two fingers together. “So I thought, ‘The bilge doesn’t get deeper than this,’ so I came along. And then we find out Ashur is a little, bizarre. And then we get locked between four walls, and Juele comes along. Half-cracked from not sleeping or eating, and it turns out he’s also a little bizarre.”
“You are so inland,” Solme told him, scratching the downturned scar across his belly from Laschdarvi, and Gerril ignored him.
“So then we’re grounded for years, until the Drifalcand decide to slice Belan’s life about two dozen years shorter, and we finally got flying again. Then Crazy shows up, grass-eyed giant who’s not Drifalcand outta nowhere, no conceivable way she coulda gotten on board. And now we’re floating on something that ain’t water, Juele ain’t Juele, and our harle might burn us down. And he might be cracked.” He laced his huge hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. “Sometimes I gotta admit to myself that I stayed around the bizarre too long, just pretending it wasn’t there. My own aunt would probably throw a pot of boiling water at me if I tried to set foot in her house.”
“Gerril,” Solme said, voice tired, “you stayed with Old Nask another season you’d’ve got the lung fever and drowned in your own snot. At this point there’s nothin’ we can do about any of ’em.”
“We can dump the crate of ’em overboard.”
“You didn’ mutiny when we got grounded for three years, you aren’t gonna mutiny now,” Felghaim drawled darkly, the shouts in the map cabin reverberating through the wood, buzzing against his back. “Stop whining.”
Gerril didn’t say anything to that, a stubborn, unhappy resignation.
Ridiath walked in, sat abruptly in the hammock across from Gerril, and closed her eyes, hands tight in her lap.
“You got a strong spine,” Felghaim told her after a few long breaths.
“I don’t see any of you in there trying to talk him down.”
Solme told her, “You joking, Ridiath? Ashur’s always had a temper like a mother storm, but he broke the air into hot little pieces, and then he got his head smashed, and then he nearly set wood on fire just by touching it. No one wants to strike the last spark.”
“Fact is,” Gerril said, “f’he hasn’t started beating her already he’s not gonna do it now.”
Felghaim made a doubtful noise, then turned his had to look at Brac, the only man who hadn’t looked up when Ridiath came in.
“Anything worth knowing?”
Brac curtly signed, no, eyes not even focusing on him. Felghaim rocked his weight forward, away from the wall.
“I’m gonna go work myself tired, fuck myself exhausted, and sleep.“