Disclaimer: I own none of this. Whatsoever.
It was a fine day to land a beastie, Singe thought, unlike the day they’d tried to set down on a glacier in the mountains of Norway. The wind had been shuffling snow up into their faces even from one hundred feet, and before long Captain Hobbes decided to just send him and the other men down on ropes. So he had slid down, swinging in the wind, jerking himself to a near halt every few feet, the friction of the rope slipping through his gloves the only heat.
From there they’d left the ship behind and trudged through the snow wearing tennis racquet-like things on their feet. Snowshoes, they were called. He, middy Levi Wilson, middy Thomas Karnes, and the bosun Mr. Rigby hadn’t said a word, just concentrated on placing one racqueted foot in front of the other. Singe had never been entirely sure why the captain had sent a few middies and the bosun on a mission, because reconnaissance wasn’t their job. Maybe he’d been scrambled in the attic somehow.
The hike was several miles around the side of the mountain to where the Clanker hideout lay nestled in the snow, startlingly like Alek’s decrepit castle in the Swiss Alps. It was covered mostly in snow, a few buildings jutting out from the drifts higher than a man’s head. They crept closer still, making good time to the outer reaches of the compound. There didn’t appear to be any guards posted. After all, in such a secluded area and insubstantial place that this was, who would need them? There was no use to freeze your bum watching for an enemy who would probably never come.
Except they had.
Rigby motioned for them to fan out and search around a little, so he had flattened himself to a building and slipped along the side in the relative silence; the only noise his own heartbeat and the wind pushing the snow along so that it formed little snakes that writhed on the ground. Singe peered through a window into a storage house. It was filled with wooden crates and--were those cages? They were empty, but unmistakable by the iron bars and doors with locks. He wiped frost from the window pane and took a closer look. All the crates were emblazoned with the crest of the former sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Singe narrowed his eyes, perplexed as to why Ottoman products would be here in Norway.
There was a flash of movement at the edge of his vision.
Singe had not been sure whether to press his face closer to the glass for a better look or to duck out of sight. He couldn’t help thinking that his moment of indecision could have changed the outcome of the mission. The second before he pulled away, he’d caught a glimpse of--no. It couldn’t have been. His mind was playing tricks on him.
But then every second had been burned into his mind, repeating itself in his dreams and forcing him to relive those terrible moments.
All at once a piercing whistle had echoed through the compound, followed by cries in some foreign language. He rushed back to where he’d last seen Rigby, not sure what else to do. He met up with middy Wilson, and they stared at each other with wide eyes for a moment. Singe had tried to warn him, but the man had just appeared so fast. Wilson let out a high-pitched wail as the arms of a grown man wrapped around him in a vice. He struggled, kicking and thrashing in his grasp, and just as Singe rushed forward to help, the captor cracked him over the head, and Wilson went deadly still. The man threw the boy aside like a toy and dashed toward Singe, wrenching his arm hard. There was a sickening crack as he pulled his arm away, but he was too numb to feel it just yet.
His first reaction after that was to bolt, so he did, nearly colliding with Mr. Rigby, who grasped him by the shoulders. He had a look of both desperation and defeat. “Run!” he hissed. “If you make it out alive, this won’t have all been in vain!” and pushed Singe away from the camp.
He had tried not to cry when he heard the three shots behind him, but they froze on his cheeks anyway.
But today was calm. Not a single gust of wind rustled the trees, and the sun had come out brilliantly in the last half hour. Leviathan was waiting patiently over head, the foul scent of vented hydrogen trickling down. Singe held fast to his rope and grimaced only slightly at the pain in his arm. It was getting better. “Hullo, beastie!” Deryn called up to it. “Have you missed me?”
Singe chuckled, finally used to the idea of Dylan being a girl; she was still the same person, really, just different. “I think it has,” he told her and she answered him by curling her lips into a crooked smile, showing a few teeth. A boy’s smile, yet somehow not. He smiled back.
“Midshipman Newkirk, a pleasure to have you back on board,” Captain Hobbes greeted him in the bridge as though he’d simply gone off to have tea.
“Thank you, Captain,” he replied, clicking his heels together in salute. “It’s a pleasure to be here.”
“And Dylan Sharp! I thought I’d seen the last of you.”
“Aye, sir. Quite the same here.” She, too, clicked her heels.
“Mr. Hohenberg, always a delight.” The captain shook Alek’s hand, bouncing Borvril up and down on his shoulder. “It would seem you’ll be with us for a time, so Alek, you’ve been assigned the same cabin as always, and Dylan will be sharing it with you.”
“Pardon me, Captain,” Deryn said, looking as confused as Singe felt, “but I was under the impression that--”
“Yes, and thank you, Captain Hobbes, we will move our luggage directly there,” Dr. Barlow entered the room with her loris and Tazza, who was hopping like he had springs in his paws. “Dylan, Alek, please see that it gets there, and take Tazza on a walk.”
“Aye, ma’am,” Deryn accepted the leash and led the thyalcine and Alek out of the bridge.
The captain’s attention returned to Singe. “Mr. Newkirk, I trust you have many things to say in your debriefing.”
“Anything that can’t wait a few more minutes?” he leaned back onto a few message lizard tubes and crossed his arms, such an uncaptainly movement that Singe blinked.
“Then I believe you should be reintroduced to Mr. Fitzroy. He should be here any moment.”
Singe hid a scowl. “Aye, sir.” They stood in silence for Fitzroy to arrive.
When he did, he was hardly recognizable. Before he had been a scrawny boy with too much arm and leg and a scraggly tuft of hair on his chin, but now even Singe had to admit he had something going for him. His arms were corded with muscles, and his cleanly shaven jaw was what Singe figured lassies would find appealing.
And he was smiling. “Mr. Newkirk!” He sprang from the doorway and buried Singe in a hug. Singe blinked. Hard. Was Fitzroy, the pompous, insufferable Fitzroy, hugging him? He patted the other boy on the back hesitantly. “It is so good to see you again!”
“Aye,” Singe agreed, not sure what the boy was trying to pull over. They’d never been friends, and that wasn’t a secret. All of the middies had been rowdy, jostling boys always eager for competition, not this hugging clart. “I heard of your heroics on the Rusalka. Congratulations.”
A shadow passed over his face. “It’s nothing to be congratulated about. That was a tragic day, and I only did what was right for my fellows that died. Clanker scum.”
“I meant congratulations on the medal.” Singe amended, shocked by his sudden change in emotion.
“Oh. Thank you.” Fitzroy tilted his head. “I must be taking my leave now, with your permission, Captain. I have some bats to feed.”
“Dismissed, Mr. Fitzroy.” Captain Hobbes said. When the boy had left, the captain turned back to Singe. “He has changed since last serving here, hasn’t he?”
“Aye, sir.” Singe agreed. Quite a lot.