An explosion rocked the ship and tossed me halfway across the captain's desk. I was somewhat comforted to see that the other two had also gone flying into the furniture, but they were up almost before I knew what had happened. Red Jenny seized one of my wrists and handcuffed me to a leg of the desk, which was bolted to the floor, and the two of them were gone out the door before I got my breath back, leaving me to wonder what was causing all the shouting and loud bangs that I could hear outside the door of the tiny cabin.
I tried to find a position that didn't leave the desk digging into the back of my neck from where I had to half crouch on the ground, and gazed up at the ceiling as if that could tell me anything about my future, my captors, or what was going on outside.
A second explosion cracked my head back smartly against the desk. If this kept up, I was going to have a concussion. Those are never fun, no matter what yellow backed novels tell you: when some goon cracks you over the head with a pistol, there's no dropping into sleep. Either you're just barely awake enough to know what is going on but not enough to do anything about it, or you have to spend the next few days horizontal, icing your head and hoping that you don't actually have any cracks in your skull. I've been in the business long enough to know that a person trying to take you alive by giving you a tap on the head, or by chloroforming you, is just as dangerous as someone who really wants you dead: they don't know what they're doing and could kill you off by accident. I already had a nice lump forming on the side of my head, courtesy of the lovely Red Jenny and her wonderful personality, but given that I wasn't dizzy, hadn't passed out to my knowledge, and was fully aware of the pain, I'd been hopeful that my skull was intact and that the brain inside it remained undamaged. I was going to need that brain sooner or later, as much good as it was doing me at the time.
I tucked my free arm behind my head and tried to puzzle out what exactly was happening.
The only thing that I could think of was that, easily as Jenny had cuffed me, she could have tried to stick a dagger in me and probably succeeded. My captors didn't intend to kill me right now, which was, at best, a cold comfort. Either they still had some use for me – whether because they thought I was lying or for something else didn't matter too much at the moment – or they simply didn't want to do it here and now. If they were smart, they would obliterate the body instead of merely hiding it.
That was a cheery thought.
The third explosion didn't cause me to concuss myself against a desk, so I turned my bruised brain to thinking about where it came from. Somewhere below me. I had a moment of panic before I realized that instead of being on a sailing ship, I was on a ship attached to a dirigible, thousands of feet in the air. There was no water to sink in, so explosions from below were much better news than explosions from above.
Of course, if the explosion turned the thin floor standing between me and those thousands of feet of empty air to woodchips, it would be much worse news.
Truth was, I'd been in enough life-or-death situations the day before – if it even was the day before, I'd gotten a little fuzzy about the timing, since it was early evening when I'd gone into the tunnels with Lovely's device, and it seemed to be headed towards a second sunset now, if the red light filtering through the porthole could be trusted. This new situation, with life and death hanging over me, was so much beyond the usual that it was beginning to take on a cast of unreality, helped, no doubt, by my now-multiple headaches and the fact that I hadn't eaten or drank anything for what my body was telling me was at least twelve hours. Even the circle of light on the ceiling looked wrong, as if I were staring at the universe from the wrong angle.
Fully convinced that I was going to wake up either tied to another chair in a warehouse, or in my own bed in my apartment, I eventually fell asleep between explosions.
I dreamed about Miss Lovely Stranger, no surprise there. I suppose that the part of my mind which wasn't fully occupied with the impending possibility of death felt guilty for leaving her behind, not that I'd intended to or even had a sliver of a choice in the matter. That's what I get for being chivalrous; nothing but a headache.
In my dream, I saw Lovely, her face shrouded in the shadows of my office and the veil that she wore, and for a moment I had the thought that there wasn't even a face under there, only more darkness with the cool gleam of an eye inside it.
"They're coming," she told me, staring out of my window at the green and gold river that wound along the base of the office building where the street should be. "You should be ready for when things come apart."
I crossed the office to stand next to her, and stared out the window into the brightness of the grey before the dawn, at the green river so clear that I could see the gold coins that lined the bottom. Above, the sky was that dark, greenish blue muted towards grey, the flag that signaled coming out on the other side of night, and great dark shadows shaped like ships rolled across my field of vision, obscuring the tiny pinpricks that were all that was left of a velvet veil of stars.
"Did your brother ever find you?" I asked Lovely, but when I turned around she was gone – and so was my office. I picked my way down the stairs along the outer wall of the building against the light, floating wind, unsure why I didn't just float away. I kept one hand firmly on the wall, and one in my pocket with my gun. Never, I knew, trust what was beautiful, or you'll end by diving into the river after the Rhine Maidens' gold, left to become nothing but a water worn jumble of sharp white bones.
Once upon a time I remembered that I would have been able to fly, but that was a long time ago.
I reached the ground and thought I saw, through the shadows of the buildings that clustered like trees along the empty asphalt, a familiar face. A woman's face, beautiful, but one which I couldn't put a name to though I wished I could. I thought that I should remember her, but I knew from the gold of her hair and the fact that her face was obscured, not by shadow, but by the distance that only gave me a fleeting impression of her, that she wasn't Lovely Stranger, or indeed any other woman that I knew: she seemed too carefree for that.
She wasn't even looking at me, bent over something on the ground, and I could barely see the shape of her profile and the faintest suggestion of a smile. I walked closer, because I knew that I would remember her if I ever saw her face properly.
I was lying down and someone was poking my shoulder. It took a few seconds for me to remember where I was before I decided to open my eyes and confirm the disappointment.
I wasn't in my own bed. I was still a prisoner. When my eyes snapped open, it was almost immediately clear that none of the day before had been the distracted imaginings of a head injury, since Red Jenny was standing over me, poking me in the shoulder with her foot. There was hardly room for me to lie down in the cabin, much less for anyone to walk, so the captain was standing behind her in the doorway, looking slightly amused.
One thing was certain: Red Jenny was not the lovely woman from my dream. For one thing, even my subconscious had that much sanity, and for another, she was looking directly at me with a sneer. Even Helen of Troy wouldn't have launched a thousand ships wearing that look of disgust, and Jenny, with the scars on her cheek, was no Helen.
"Get up," she told me, "the fight's over."
I gestured to the manacle that was still linking me to the captain's desk. How I'd managed to fall asleep wedged up between the chair that had tipped over on me and that desk, one arm locked to the furniture, I couldn't tell. I was stiff and just as sore as I was before I'd fallen asleep, maybe worse since the adrenaline was long gone, and my fuzzy brain was screaming for a cup of coffee that I wasn't going to get.
Jenny unlocked my wrist and hauled me to my feet. There wasn't room to protest, though the idea crossed my mind a few seconds after it might actually have been useful. When she wrenched my other arm behind my back to cuff them together, it hurt a lot worse than I remembered it, and my mind finally woke up to the idea that all of this was really happening.
I stumbled down the narrow corridor, steered from behind, through a few locked doors, and down to what I assumed was the brig. The chains stapled to the wall were what clued me in. That and the fact that it had a barred door that was locked behind me with a definitive sounding click.
After that, the pirates left me alone again.
I took a quick look around my cell, which consisted of a bucket and a pile of straw that I could just about stretch out on, and then, because there was nothing else to do and my body still needed sleep, I laid down to finish my nap.
Believe me, it's not as badass as it sounds.
AN: Yeah. It's gotten to the point in the semester where I can only really promise biweekly updates. I promise that the next one won't be a transition chapter, though.
I am working on another story right now, but I won't be releasing it until this winter.