Deryn’s heart was pounding. She’d missed the other midshipman like blazes since she’d left the Leviathan. Now he was here and he looked worse for wear. His uniform was dirty and didn’t fit properly, his hair looked like it hadn’t been cut for far too long, and he held his arm gingerly like a wound had healed bad.
“Dylan.” Newkirk began. She waited patiently for him to continue. His mouth opened several times, like he were going to, but no words were coming out. There was a pain in his eyes, and Deryn knew whatever he had to say wasn’t good. “I--It’s--” He stopped again.
“What is is, Mr. Newkirk?”
“I shouldn’t be alive right now.”
She stared at him blankly.
“I-I was on a mission. Simple reconnaissance, scouting out land where there were some Clankers hiding. In the mountains. But it went wrong, Dylan, so wrong. Mr. Rigby and the other men--we got caught, and all of them...”
His words were swallowed by sobs, and Deryn felt awkward as she pulled him into her arms for comfort. Briefly she wondered if that was something boys did. Not knowing what to say, she stood silently and let him shake in her arms.
He pulled away and angrily scrubbed the tears from his eyes, so much like when she’d last seen him. “I escaped. There was a fight, and Mr. Rigby told me to run--that they needed someone to survive to tell what we’d seen...” he broke into more harsh sobs.
Blisters, the boy was a wreck. And how had he barking got all the way here from wherever he’d been? The nearest mountains were in northern Britain, and there was no way Clankers could hide there, in the heart of Darwinist land. That left the Alps in Switzerland, or even the Kjolen across the sea in Norway, both of which were ridiculously far away.
No matter where Newkirk had been, it was obvious he’d be here for a while.
“Come on, I’ll get you a room. A bit of sleep will fix you right up, I suppose,” when she tugged on his arm, he didn’t budge. “Listen. For now you got to take care of yourself. Just because they’re gone doesn’t mean you are too. You hear me? I’ve been down the road your on, and I can tell you now all that’s waiting at the end is a cliff. And the moment you fall of you won’t come back up. So what you’re going to do is haul your bum upstairs and get some sleep. And when you wake up you can tell me everything, all right?”
He gave her a grunt for an answer and shuffled toward the door. Alek and Dr. Barlow watched in silence as the two of them crossed to the main room, and then up the stairs. Deryn led him into the nearest room and left him be. The door slid closed behind her without a sound.
She took her place at the table and speared a biscuit with her fork angrily. “What are you staring at?”
“You, it would seem, Mr. Sharp.” Dr. Barlow stirred her tea slowly. Deryn avoided the question on Alek’s face by tearing off a piece of bread and grinding it in her teeth.
“Well, then. Newkirk will be here for at least a week, I think.” She popped the rest of the biscuit in her mouth and stood. “If that’ll be all?”
“Yes. Please dress for zoo duty. We have nothing else planned for today, so you will be tending the animals.”
“Aye, ma’am,” she rounded the table and pulled out Alek’s chair, helping him out of it.
“You will be excused from your duties today, Aleksandar, and until you are able to walk again on your own.”
Deryn loved the days when she worked with the beasties. It was simple, satisfying work, and she enjoyed the company they gave her. The birds twittered happily, and the wind brushed through the trees with a lazy whisper. The sun beat down on her back as she cleaned out their enclosures, talking to the beasties along the way.
An elephantine nudged her on the shoulder with it’s trunk. “Hullo there, beastie. And how are you today?”
It made a soft noise at her, one that sounded happy.
“I’ll take that as ‘tip-top, sir, and how are you?’” she stroked the beastie’s snout absently, “Well, since you asked, I’m really not ‘tip-top’ as you say. You see, with my friend here--let’s just say he’s visiting--it’ll not be easy to meet this other guy on Tuesday without him finding out my--er--secret,” she said carefully, making sure there were no humans around to hear. “I’m just not sure how to pull it off--I’m happier than a box of kittens he’s here, don’t you get me wrong on that. I guess I could probably sneak out without him noticing, but it wouldn’t be easy. And I need another skirt, too. I can hardly wear the same one again--it would be barking suspicious.”
It trumpeted suddenly, as if in agreement. She tilted her head at it. “What’s going on inside your attic, beastie? Do you know what I’m saying, or do you just like people to talk to you?”
The creature blew in her face, ruffling her hair. Deryn stepped back, laughing, “Forget I said anything!” She shook her head and resumed her work, telling the elephantine everything she couldn’t tell anyone else.
Blisters, why was everything so much easier with beasties than people?
Sorry this is a short one, but I don't have enough left to be posting two!