Sunday, November 25, 2012
A/N: So this is it. The very last chapter of Orion. In as few words as I can so you can get on to reading, I’d like to thank everyone who’s read this fanfic. Really, you are the people who have gotten me this far. This is the first time I’ve finished a story this long, and now I don’t know what to do with myself.
Well, except write another one.
By some miracle, she was still alive.
Deryn unclipped herself from the ratlines and dropped the ten feet to the ground, bending her knees to absorb the impact of hitting the frozen ground.
She kicked the ground, sending up a small shower of frost, and tilted her head back at the Leviathan. It was laying on it’s side so the gondola wouldn’t be crushed, and the balloon of hydrogen that kept the beast in the air was deflated and rippled in the breeze, ratlines laying slack about it. Deryn was on the back side of the ship, opposite the gondola.
It was a place she’d been before.
She bit her tongue remembering waking up to Alek’s face, red with cold and confused, asking if she was alright. All too clearly she could imagine when he’d held a gun to her, how he’d almost blown the ship then and there. How over the past half year, they’d saved each other’s lives more times than she could count.
And right now, she needed to know if all that had been for nothing.
She tore off around the ship, feet pounding on the frozen soil. Her breath came in gasps, steaming as it blew from her nose and mouth. She tugged on her sleeves, pulling them as low over her wrists as they would go for any protection from the cold.
Her eyes lit on a Roth Turtle descending from the sky, but it took only a moment for her to see that the man on it was much smaller than Max. She squinted, heart quickening with fear that it could be Fitzroy.
A hiss of relief rushed out from between her teeth when she made out Newkirk, smudging blood off his face with a bare hand and smearing it on his trousers. It left an angry red streak from just above his left eye down to his chin, a still-bleeding slash most prominent among it.
Torn between finding Alek and finding out what had happened to Newkirk, she hopped back and forth, and finally took off again, dashing to another turtle across the beach.
Max was standing atop its back, arms rested solidly on his hips as he stared solemnly at the deflated air beast. His face was a mixed expression of dismay and relief, a gruesome bruise swelling into a goose-egg on his forehead. She drew to a skidding halt a few feet in front of him, boots stirring the small rocks that substituted for sand on the beach.
“Where is he?” She demanded without hesitation, alarmingly conscious of how she seemed too worried about him for a friend relationship. “Alek, I mean. Is he... is he okay?”
Is he alive?
Biting his lip, Max took his time in answering. With every heartbeat, each faster than the last, Deryn felt her last shreds of hope drop like the ground had been yanked out from underneath her.
“I think they’ve taken him to see Dr. Busk. There are some men getting whatever they can out of his office to treat the wounded, if you’d like to help.”
Deryn nodded mutely, wordless with relief, backing up a few steps before pivoting and taking off again, stomach twisted and fingers numb. Her feet took her around the beast’s head, to the general location of Dr. Busk’s office on the overturned gondola. A small group of crewmen had assembled and were passing things along a line to end in a pile of supplies, rolls of gauze and pain killers spread haphazardly on a hastily laid tarp. Other medicines were among them, and a few sets of tools Deryn couldn’t identify aside from knives or needles.
The boffin was surveying the rescued supplies, and behind them the wounded were propped along the wall of the gondola or laid down beside it. The shape made for an excellent windbreak.
“Do you need assistance, sir?” she asked Dr. Busk, eyes darting back and forth between the boffin and the line of wounded men.
“In fact, Dylan, an assistant would be wonderful. If you would, please, carry that bag of instruments as I move between patients, and hand me things as I tell you to do so.”
Deryn held back a scowl. She’d hoped he would dismiss her so she could find Alek.
“Aye, sir.” She heaved up the pack and followed behind him, the dry grass crunching softly under her feet below the clinking of tools and the rustle of gauze.
In less than five minutes, they’d made it to Alek.
She hadn’t recognized him before because he was curled up between two burly riggers, red hair covered with an arm. Her fingers itched to drop the bag and kiss him for being alive, but instead she bit her tongue and rummaged for several rolls of gauze and some antibiotics.
Deryn handed them to Dr. Busk soundlessly, nudging Alek with the toe of her boot.
He moaned and started to roll over, stopping abruptly with a gasp, arm partially lifted from his face. “Ow,” he moaned, squinting up at Deryn. The only color on his face was in the tip of his nose and in his soft green eyes.
She offered him a half smile, fingering another roll in the bag.
“Bullet wound,” she said matter-of-factly, eyes holding steady at the bloodstain on Newkirk’s shirt, still pressed over the wound. “Lower left abdomen. Bullet went straight through.”
“Aye,” Dr. Busk said shortly. “Hold him, please. I need to flush the wound and check for organ damage. Put your arm across his chest, over the arms. The numbing agent should kick in quickly, but it’s always nice to be sure.” He beckoned for another man to hold his legs.
The doctor changed into a new pair of gloves, snipped away a large patch of Alek’s shirt, and gently began probing the wound.
Deryn couldn’t bring herself to watch.
Alek’s back arched without warning, and Deryn pushed hard to hold him down. “You’ll be fine, Alek,” she muttered reassuringly, and then added a stern “hold still” when he kept struggling.
His eyes met hers, and with a pale face and clenched teeth, he nodded. He settled down, body taut as a string but still nonetheless. Alek let out a few short, gasping breaths and shut his eyes tightly. A bead of sweat appeared on his forehead, and Deryn brushed it away with her sleeve, stained with his blood.
It was dried on her hands, flaking off and falling in specks to rest on the pebbled beach. Now rust colored under her fingernails, she quickly hid her hands from his view, hoping he hadn’t seen them.
“You can let him go now,” Dr. Busk ordered. Deryn jumped back, fearing she’d shown too much affection toward him. “You’ve lost a lot of blood, but that wound is far from fatal, assuming it stays free of infection. I’ve stitched a tear in your large intestine. The thread is made partially of spider webbing, so it will dissolve eventually without having to be removed. Dylan, if you would, administer the pain medication.”
“Aye, sir,” Deryn said. “Open your mouth, Alek.”
He nodded, and she swiftly knelt and placed a small pill under his tongue. “Don’t chew on that,” she ordered. “It goes away on its own.”
“Thank you,” he croaked. “For saving me. Again.” The last word was added almost as and afterthought. Deryn’s eyes burned.
Alek licked his dry lips, smiled, and his soft green eyes slowly closed.
Deryn gaped at Dr. Busk, who was nodding and turning away. “Why’s he lost consciousness again?”
“I gave him a sedative injection. If he were to move around a lot, he could tear the stitches. It will wear off in roughly an hour.”
Swallowing, she nodded and fell in step behind him, moving on to the next patient. She cast a furtive glance over her shoulder at Alek, whose dirty red hair was strung every which way about his slack, peaceful face. His chest rose and fell in a blissfully steady rhythm.
A smile found its way onto her lips.
Nearly an hour later, she was finally done tending the wounded. She bid a quick farewell to Dr. Busk, took two coats from the nearby supply pile and pushed her arms into one, and broke into a run for where Alek would still be laying.
On her way, she passed the gondola, where a small group of people were wandering around dazedly. Sighing, Deryn slowed to a stop.
“Dylan!” Melissa called brightly.
She gave the midshipman a quick nod, registering the other people to be Lauren, the Clanker girl--Ronnie, or something like that--, a guard she didn’t recognize, and Thaddeus Welker, the only person of the collection that looked distinctly irritated to be there. He was laying on his back, feet propped dejectedly up on the side of the gondola as he chewed on his lip, twisted into a scowl.
“I say we bolt,” he muttered in German.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Mr. Welker,” she replied likewise. His eyebrows raised, and he shot a murderous glare up at her. He must not have known she spoke German.
Pity for him.
“You seem to be forgetting, Miss Sharp, that you do not hold all the cards in this game.”
“Blisters,” she swore, and shifting the other jacket to the crook of her left arm.
“Indeed,” Tad said with a small, sad smile. “If you were to try and stop me, I could simply reveal your little secret--and their’s--to this entire ship.”
Deryn’s eyes flicked to Melissa and Lauren, both of whose eyebrows were drawn together.
“Or,” Deryn said, taking a step closer, “I could simply knock your lights out. Even if I am a girl, I’m sure you’re aware that it’s something I’m quite capable of.”
Tad swallowed, and with one look at her raised fists conceded to stay exactly where he was.
“Good choice,” she said venomously. “Miles, Levi, please keep him here. Don’t be afraid to give him a solid hit to the face if he tries to go anywhere. Her too,” she added, looking at Rachel.
“I do not intend to escape, Mr. Sharp.”
Deryn raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Just keep an eye on her, you two.”
“Aye,” Lauren agreed.
Her feet were once again taking her to Alek. As she drew close to him, he was lying still along the ship. Deryn chewed on her lip, wondering if this was what she looked like when Alek had first seen her.
She hoped so. Even out cold and pale enough to fit into the bleak landscape, he took her breath away.
“What is his condition, Mr. Sharp?” Dr. Barlow asked, coming up behind her, and Tazza came to nuzzle the back of Deryn’s hand.
“Mr. Sharp,” the loris perched contentedly on her shoulder echoed.
She stroked the thylacine’s head, feeling along its cold ears.
“He’ll live.” Deryn looked over her shoulder at the lady boffin, whose fingers were poised delicately on Tazza’s lead.
“Good,” she said, shaking her head. “I shall have to have a talk with that boy. He has a terrible habit of this sort of thing.”
Deryn’s mouth dropped slightly, but she didn’t say anything.
After a moment of silence, curiosity overcame her. “Ma’am, where did the Behemoth come from?”
Dr. Barlow sighed. “An egg, like all other fabricated beasts.”
Deryn glared at the boffin.
“Though I suppose that wasn’t what you were asking. You’re aware of the common legend of the Loch Ness monster, I assume? Mr. Churchill believes we can hardly let the Behemoth run rampant about the ocean, and just last month informed us that he would make the legend come true, and Loch Ness would be its dormancy location. A convenient occurrence for us today, I’m sure.”
The lady boffin’s eyes travelled along the surface of the loch, searching for a sign of the great creature that had saved them. Deryn followed her line of sight, the light from the setting sun’s reflection burning the image onto the backs of her eyelids.
All was quiet but for the murmur of boots and voices that sounded far away. A bird cawed somewhere along the opposite shore, and the wind rose to answer it.
Funny how the perfect moments tend to come on the worst days.
Maybe that’s what made them perfect, though. When everything has gone pear-shaped, it’s the little pieces of good that seem the most important. They say that it’s not all so bad as it seems, and bit by bit, it will get better.
“Am I the only one who’s cold?”
Deryn didn’t fight the grin that invaded her whole face, and she spun around and knelt next to Alek.
“No, Dummkopf. But I brought you a coat. Careful putting it on, though. Don’t want to tear your stitches.” His nose wrinkled, and she carefully lifted his torso, letting him slide one arm into the coat and then the other before laying him back down. Deftly, she buttoned it for him.
“I trust you are feeling well, Aleksandar, considering,” Dr. Barlow said, not bothering to staunch the quirk of her mouth. Tazza padded slowly over to sniff Alek’s hand. “A crew will be along shortly to carry the wounded to the infirmary once the ship is back in order. Until then, I believe that Mr. Sharp will provide adequate supervision. If you don’t mind, I have duties to attend to.”
And with a conspiratorial raising of an eyebrow, she tsped for Tazza to follow her and walked slowly away.
“A terrible habit!” Dr. Barlow’s loris cackled as they left, nearly falling off her shoulder in a fit of laughter.
With no one in earshot, she could finally say the things she’d wanted to since Max had taken him away.
“Thanks for not dying,” she began uncertainly, not really sure where to begin. So many things were swirling around in her head that it was hard to pick one.
“No problem,” he answered, eyes bright.
His cold hand found hers, and she squeezed it briefly before placing it carefully on his chest. Deryn let both their hands rest there for a moment, imagining she could feel the constant beating of his heart through the layers of clothing.
“Too bad we aren’t alone,” he mused, grinning wickedly at her.
“Only if we did anything too rough, you’d tear your stitches.” She pushed a strand of hair from his forehead, smiling.
“Not if it was just kissi--”
He grabbed her wrist, holding it exactly where he could get a good look at it.
“Is this mine?” he demanded shakily. His eyes were fixed raptly on the red streaks that adorned her hand.
“Aye. Some’s from helping Dr. Busk, but for the most part...”
“Alright.” He nodded, and Deryn could see the realization dawn on him.
Deryn swallowed and waited for him to speak.
“I almost died,” Alek croaked, voice barely a whisper. “Deryn, I... I’m sorry.”
She scoffed. “You’re sorry?”
Alek’s eyes searched hers. “Yes. You must have been...”
The backs of her eyes burned. She managed a nod. “So don’t--don’t do that anymore. If you do, I’ll kill you myself.” Deryn looked away to hide her tears.
He reached up and wiped away the tear that had tracked its way down her cheek. His thumb, somewhere between soft and rough, followed around to cup her chin, bringing her to face him. She held his gaze for a long moment, acutely aware of how her skin burned where his fingers were touching it.
“You know, there isn’t anyone else around for quite a ways. It’s unlikely that they could see us very well.” Alek’s gaze darted to both sides, landing on her with a mischievous glint.
She smiled and leaned down to kiss him.
Even looking at her hurt.
Newkirk could still smell the blood on his face, and feel it drying on his palm, but the pain of that and any of his other injuries was hardly comparable to what he felt when he saw Rachel.
In her classic pose, legs pulled up to her chest with chin resting lightly on her knees, she was observing all the went on around her with bemused attachment. The constant wind that battered the crew danced in her hair.
Singe grimaced as he wondered exactly what she would think when she saw him, battle worn and a little shaky.
“The captain will be along shortly, and I’m to make sure you’re all in working order,” he said, eyes sweeping over the band of prisoners. With Melissa and Levi still suspected as spies, there were four in all, as well as the guard that had been watching them. He saluted the man, who was gaping openly at Singe.
“Are you a message lizard now?” Lauren asked astutely.
“All their attics are still scrambled.” He shrugged. He hadn’t really minded the short walk over here. It had given him a few moments to gather his thoughts.
“Shouldn’t you see a doctor about that?” inquired Melissa.
“No need. It’s already stopped bleeding,” he lied, shaking his head.
“Alright, then. Another question, Mr. Newkirk,” Melissa said, grinning slyly. “Don’t you need to tie our wrists together first? Also, do you happen to know any good prison songs? My repertoire is completely empty,” she continued with a completely straight face.
Giving her a raised eyebrow, Singe replied with a hint of sarcasm, “I seem to have forgotten the twine, so I guess I’ll just have to trust you. And it’s all the better if you don’t sing.” He paused a moment, waiting for a response. When the girl just looked at him bemusedly, he sighed. “Now that that’s settled, were any of you injured?”
“We’re all just fine, Mr. Newkirk,” Lauren said. “Metal cots bolted to the floor are very sturdy, you know. It wasn’t difficult to hold on.”
“Speak for yourself,” Melissa disagreed, rubbing her knee. “I’ll have a bruise from this, brother.”
“Dry up, Welker,” Rachel snapped at him. She blew a piece of hair from her eyes angrily and glared at him. Singe could tell they’d never been on friendly terms. “What are you laughing about, anyway?”
Singe’s stomach constricted as the boy told her something in German, afraid that he was sharing the girls’ secret as nonchalantly as coffee-shop gossip. Rachel’s mouth dropped open, and she shot what he assumed were curses at him in rapid-fire shouts.
She looked ready to slap him, so Singe took her by the arm and dragged her away. “Calm down,” he ordered.
After a moment of silence, he asked incredulously, “What did he say?”
“I’d rather not repeat it,” she said, having abandoned all pretenses that she wasn’t fluent in English as she had led him to believe, “but it was frankly insulting.” Her cheeks were flushed bright red.
“I--” Rachel began, then stopped and bit her lip. “I don’t know how to say this, but--”
“Then don’t,” he replied coldly.
A huddle of officers arrived, all in warm coats and thick gloves. “The prisoners, Captain,” Singe announced, saluting.
“Very well, Mr. Newkirk.” Hobbes nodded.
Singe licked his lips. “Permission to speak, sir?”
“It is my utmost belief that Miles and Levi Wilson are not traitors, sir. In fact--” he was cut short by the captain raising his hand.
“That’s quite enough, Mr. Newkirk. There will be time for appeals later,” he said tiredly. Singe averted his eyes, still standing at attention. Captain Hobbes addressed the captives. “As soon as possible, you will be returned to your cells. I assume that will be within the hour. Misters Wilson, the two of you will have a formal hearing once everything settles.”
“Aye, sir,” they said in unison, staring at the ground defeatedly.
“Captain, if I may,” Thaddeus began, and swept his hand dramatically with a small bow.
“Go on,” the captain allowed warily.
The boy cleared his throat. “I have information valuable to you regarding these two... fellows.”
Singe’s hand went immediately to his knife, and an instinctive snarl rose in his throat, but Captain Hobbes saw his movement and motioned him down. “Stay where you are, Newkirk.”
A moment of tense silence followed.
“Not so fast, Captain. I need something in return.” His eyes were leveled directly into the captain’s, as unflinching as he was serious.
The girls exchanged a nervous glance, and Melissa turned to Singe with despair in her eyes.
“What are you terms? And be aware, Mr. Welker, that anything you ask will be discarded if your information proves worthless.”
“Immediate parole from any sentence I’m given, assuming you’ll try me in court.”
The captain regarded they boy, and he stroked his beard, deliberating. “Minimum sentence, no parole. That’s the best you’ll get.”
Tad drew in a breath and said “Deal” with the barest hint of hesitation.
“Now your information.” It wasn’t a question.
The Clanker boy supplied a smirk and gestured to the midshipmen a mere five feet away.
He offered simply, “They’re girls.”
It was three days before they would even allow him out of bed.
In that time, a lot of things happened, most of which he had to be informed about by Deryn.
On his first day of bed rest, after the ship had been righted and the animals were being fed--and and as a result the hydrogen replenished--by food brought from the various villages within a ten kilometer radius that could spare supplies. They’d received everything from goat cheese to rye bread, and to Deryn’s distaste, yogurt.
She’d knocked lightly on the door and entered without waiting for his response, her head peaking around the doorframe and lighting on Alek, exactly where he should have been. His torso was wrapped in a layer of gauze so thick that even if he had wanted to move, he couldn’t have.
He let himself smile and said, “Hello, Dylan. Have you brought lunch?”
“Aye, I have. And you’ll be eating like a... well, I suppose like a prince,” she replied, wincing.
She nudged the door the rest of the way open with the toe of her boot, and shuffled in with a tray that held a variety of easily digested foods. Dr. Busk had told him firmly that he wasn’t allowed to have hard substances for at least a week.
“That hardly looks like the meals I used to eat.” He paused, thinking. “It’s much more appetizing.”
Deryn chuckled, and then bit her lip as she selected a bowl. “Can you feed yourself, or shall I?”
“Well, I suppose I could,” Alek observed with a playful grin. “Pity, though.”
“Oh, sod off,” Deryn retorted, though the remark was hardly an angry one. She thrust a spoon in the bowl and handed it to him, pulling up the chair from next to the wall and sitting in it.
Alek peered in at the yogurt and asked, “I don’t suppose there’s any coffee to go with this, is there?”
Her only response was a glare, so Alek shrugged and tucked in, realizing he was too hungry to exchange any more banter.
The yogurt was gone quickly, and as he ate, Deryn filled him in on the goings-on of the ship.
“Dr. Barlow suspects we’ll be back in the air within five days,” she said, “but the captain isn’t giving a solid answer. And I think the lady boffin said that we might not be traveling back to London on the Leviathan. Something about business to take care of on the way home.”
He paused between mouthfuls. “Really? Would we travel by train, then?”
“I assume as much, but you can never be sure with her. Maybe we’ll pick up the count on the way.”
Alek’s eyes widened, and he agreed firmly. “Yes. He and Mr. Barlow will be done at the peace conferences now, won’t they?”
Dr. Barlow’s husband and Count Volger had been going between Paris and Northern England arranging peace talks and negotiations between the Clanker and Darwinist powers. Ironically enough, the count was becoming an instrumental middle ground who represented both powers, every day bringing the war closer to an end.
“Aye.” Her eyes searched elsewhere in the room while he ate his yogurt.
“I spoke with Newkirk today,” Deryn said, changing subjects. “He told me that Melissa and Lauren have left the service. The captain struck a deal with them that they would return to America and keep quiet about being girls in the service in exchange for him letting them off without any formal penalties or reprimands. As far as anyone will know, they just decided that the life of an airman wasn’t for them. They’ll be one of the service’s dark secrets, I suspect. One of those rumors the riggers tell like ghost stories after they’ve snuck a few drinks into the middies.”
Alek drew his eyebrows together. “Have you had this experience?”
“Unfortunately not. I came in a little late for that.” Deryn sighed wistfully. “We’ll just get lost in history, won’t we, Alek?”
He could feel the sadness in her voice as thick as cotton, and placed his hand over hers gently. “Deryn, we will never be lost. It may just seem like any other day to us, but in a hundred years people will look back on this time and know our names. We are part of something, and that will never be forgotten. We’ve helped people, Deryn. All of those people in the Ottoman Empire? They won’t forget the revolution. Their lives have been changed because of us and Lilit and Zaven and all the others. And who knows, some day they may let girls into the Service, and then we can tell the whole world your story.”
She shrugged. “I guess you’re right.”
But he didn’t believe it. “And no matter what else happens, I will never forget you, Deryn Sharp. And I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”
Deryn smiled broadly. “If I was good with words like you, I’d tell you something like that.”
“You could show me,” he suggested.
Deryn raised an eyebrow and shook her head fervently. “Not after you’ve just eaten yogurt. I don’t want to be near that stuff, let alone taste it.”
Frowning, Alek heaped his spoon full of yogurt and aimed it at her. “Shall I resort to threats, Miss Sharp?”
With a look of defiance, Deryn swiftly took hold of his hand and tipped the spoon back over into the bowl. “Eat your food, daftie,” she chided.
There were a few moments of silence, and Alek studied the girl as he scraped the remnants from the bottom of his bowl. Her hair had grown darker in the last few months, so it was now a dishwater sort of blond as opposed to the bright color it had been when he’d first met her as Dylan. It was due for a trim now, the little bits growing in around her ears and settling at odd angles when they weren’t combed.
She sat leaned back in her chair, an arm slung around the top as she waited. When her eyes wandered back around to his, they watched him with the unassuming warmth that always shocked him, especially when he realized that the light they held was just for him.
He brought the spoon to his mouth and swallowed slowly. “You want any more?” Deryn asked, gesturing vaguely at the tray. “I think there’s blueberry.”
“No, that’s fine, Liebe. I’m full.”
“What was that?” She gave him an odd look.
“I said I’m full.”
“No, before that bit.”
“Oh.” Alek took a moment to think before he realized what he’d said. “It’s something my father called my mother. It’s like ‘dear’ or ‘love’. I hadn’t even noticed I said it before you pointed it out.”
“Mmhmm,” Deryn agreed with a smile. “Then I ought to call you honey pie.”
“Please don’t,” begged Alek, laughing.
“Fine,” she conceded. He laid his head back on the mountain of pillows that supported him and wondered at the ceiling. A single message lizard tube came out of one wall and snaked its way along until it was just above the desk, the only ornament in the room. Like in most of the ship, a flowing wallpaper design covered the top half of the wall.
“Are you ready to leave it again?” he asked.
“No.” She knew exactly what he’d meant, and her voice held a tender sadness. She was staring at the walls, too. “But I have to, don’t I? So I’ll pester Newkirk with letters all the time and make him tell me everything about the ship, and I’ll learn to live on the ground. I’ve got the most important thing there with me, anyway.”
“What’s that?” he inquired dumbly, looking at her.
Newkirk drummed his fingers on his knees in anticipation, worried out of his mind wondering why the captain would have called him to the bridge.
He glanced nervously at the time clock on his wrist, waiting to be summoned into the room. They would be taking off in less than four hours, and Alek, Deryn, and Dr. Barlow were leaving before then. He needed to say goodbye.
The door opened, and an officer motioned Singe through the door. It shut behind him soundlessly, but he felt the air movement tickle the back of his neck. He stood motionless until the captain addressed him.
“At ease, Mr. Newkirk.” Captain Hobbes turned away from the impressive window that made up most of the bridge’s walls. “No doubt you’re wondering why I’ve invited you here. Most midshipmen don’t spend much time in this room.” He rested his hands on the map table.
“Aye, sir. I’m curious.”
The captain stroked his beard before speaking. “I need to have a few words with you, Mr. Newkirk.”
Singe’s mind ran through the extensive list of things he’d done wrong in just the last weeks, trying to figure out what the captain may have discovered.
“A proposition of sorts. I spoke with the Admirality about this over a week ago and received their permission. I’m also fully aware that most officers are well over the age of twenty and that you are a mere sixteen, but you’ve proven yourself more than capable of filling a position on this ship that has been recently vacated, may Mr. Rigby rest in peace.”
Singe took a step back, shaking his head to unscramble the words the captain had just said. Realizing it was hopeless, he just said, “Sir?”
“Mr. Newkirk, tomorrow I will officially appoint you as the Leviathan’s new bosun, but I thought it would be best to inform you of your promotion before the ceremony. Congratulations.”
The room spun around him, and it was all he could do to mutter an incredulous thank you and salute when he was dismissed. When he made it to the hallway, Singe leaned heavily against the wall and took several deep breaths. He was halfway between a giddy laugh and an unmanly scream. Not sure which would come out, he kept absolutely silent and let his feet lead him wherever they wanted to go.
Still thinking, Singe landed right in front of a thick cell door.
“Let me in,” he told the guard posted outside. The man shrugged, recognizing the boy with the scar on his face, and selected one of the keys, twisting it in the lock.
Singe pulled a small wormlight out of his pocket and shook it, agitating the worms so they glowed.
“Hello, Eugene.” Rachel sat exactly where she always was, legs pulled up to her chest and her chin resting on them. Her hair had been brushed and pulled back with a tie, and she had on a fresh shirt and trousers.
“Hello, Rachel,” Singe replied. “You look nice.”
“Thank you.” She watched him with narrowed eyes. “Let us not mince words, Mr. Newkirk. Why are you here?”
He met her gaze firmly. “You want honesty? I have no idea why I’m here. After everything you put me through, all the lies you let me believe, I shouldn’t want to even look at you. But I can’t stay away. There are too many things I still need to tell you, too many questions I still have to ask.”
Rachel nodded solemnly. “Then ask them.”
“Did you ever feel anything?”
There was the slightest hesitation, but when she spoke she said it with calm certainty. “No. You are an amazing boy, Eugene, but I never loved you.”
“Then why did you lead me on?”
She didn’t answer.
“Why?” he nearly yelled. “If anything, you owe me the truth now. Why did you do this to me? I’ve never felt like this before! It’s eating me from the inside out, and you are the only thing I can think of! Do you know how much it hurts to know that you don’t feel the same way?”
“You had information and access that I needed. Is that honest enough for you? You don’t want me, Eugene Newkirk. I’m the enemy, for God’s sake! It’s my fault so many people died. All of this was my idea! They should hang me for what I’ve done, but your kind won’t let me off that easy. Instead, I have to work for your Society now, using my knowledge against my own people. That’s worse than any death, and they know it. I’m a traitor now.”
A cold fist clenched around Singe’s stomach. “What?”
“Your captain decided that a fit punishment would be fifteen years of forced service to the Zoological Society that Dr. Barlow and your friends work for,” she said acidly. “I’m going with them this afternoon, probably in cuffs.”
He swallowed hard. All thought left his mind except for one completely irrational thing. “Then before you go, I need one thing from you.”
Her watery eyes reflected the wormlight. “What more could you take from me? I’ve already lost my family and my dignity.”
“Kiss me. If I never see you again, and even if I know you will never love me, I need to kiss you once in my life.”
In one swift motion, she was on her feet, her face inches from his.
It wasn’t how he’d imagined at all. He’d thought that her kiss would be soft like her eyes and bright like her hair, but it was angry as fire and sharp as knives and better than any fantasy could have been. He leaned into her mouth and held his hand at the back of her neck, savoring every bit of her he could have, even if it was all a lie.
She turned her head away, slightly breathless. “Are you happy now?”
“No. But at least you were honest, and that’s all I asked.”
He stepped back from her, taking in everything about her just as he turned away with an ache that coursed through his entire body. “Goodbye, Rachel Steiner.”
“Goodbye, Eugene Newkirk.”
He closed the door behind him without looking back.
The three of them stood on the platform, a trio of sadness and hope filled with a future more extensive than their pasts. The sun would have been directly over them if they weren’t in ship’s shadow.
Deryn was the first to break the silence. “It seems we’ve been here before.”
“Aye, and something tells me we’ll be here again,” Singe said.
“I have no doubt,” Alek agreed, hunched a bit and leaning on his temporary cane. “So what do you think’s in store for the three of us next?”
“Well, I’ll settle into my new position as bosun,” Newkirk said, scanning the beach. “The two of you will continue to work for the Society, and no matter what happens, we’ll keep in touch. Maybe the war will end and we’ll have to adjust to normal lives.”
They puzzled over the thought of an average life, and Deryn stated what each of them were thinking: “Sounds right boring to me.”
Alek frowned. “Agreed. I look forward to the future, but Lord knows I didn’t think we’d even make it this far.”
“We’ve gotten our share of bumps and bruises,” Singe mused, reaching up to feel the scab that had formed on his cheek. It would be one of his defining features now, and he would be remembered solely as the man with the scar. No one would know that he’d broken his arm or fallen in love with the enemy, or that he’d known and befriend the only three girls brave enough to join the Air Service. They wouldn’t even know he’d killed Sebastian Fitzroy. That memory was the kind of scar only he could see every night when he fell asleep. As far as anyone outside this circle knew, Fitzroy had fallen off the Roth turtle after Singe knocked the gun out of his hand.
“We’ll see you soon, Mr. Newkirk. Don’t you worry.” Alek held out his hand, and Singe pulled him into a gentle hug. Then he nodded to Deryn and hugged her too.
Giving the couple a small wave before he returned to his station, he said, “I’m looking forward to it.”
A/N: So I’m back. Hello again. At the beginning of the chapter, I mentioned writing another fic. I wasn’t lying. In fact, Orion’s continuation (As of this moment it will be called Medusa) is currently well into the plotting stage. I'll be posting that to my blog when I get around to it whether anyone will read it here or not. Also, I'm writing an original story now. I may or may not put that on here.
I’m sure you’re all aware that at the end of each of the books Mr. Westerfeld put a little explanation as to what’s fact and what’s fiction. Well, I can tell you now that in Orion, not a lot of it is based on real events.
The facts are these: I created the characters Melissa and Lauren Wilson, based off of myself and a girl that likes to get on the Westerblog and join the comment strains. I also created Rachel Steiner, who, like most of my original characters, is based on a real person (She, too, used to get on the Westerblog. But I have no idea where she is now.) She would have been another midship-woman in disguise, except that the real Rachel told me she was a Clanker, which now I’m very thankful for. Max is the only completely original guy, and he actually came up with the Roth Aerial Battle Turtles (Thank you, M@X, to use your username). The character Thaddeus Welker does not exist in real life by any means. I have adapted Newkirk and Fitzroy from their original characters to make them more... deep.
While some of the plotting ideas and elements are my own, I owe a large (VERY large) part of the story line to my little brother, who I lovingly call the Ninja-Magician-Plotter, for obvious reasons. He gave it most of the broad details that made the story compelling, and the little things that made it what it is were mine.
Fiction: I did not create any characters that were in the trilogy (obviously). Loch Ness exists, as does the legend about the Loch Ness Monster. My brother and I conveniently adapted that for our own purposes. And Loch Ness DOES go all the way out to the ocean. Google Earth told me so :). No Axis (read: Clanker) powers, to my knowledge, every really hid in the Kjolen mountains and plotted revenge.
You know, that’s all I can think of right now. But if you want to know more, I’m happy to share everything that went in to any character and event in the book. All you have to do is ask. So many things are thought about in the writing process that don’t even get mentioned in the actual store, and I’d be thrilled to tell you about it.
This concludes the longest authors note. Ever.