Alek was laying on his bed, thoroughly bored. He almost wished that he, too, were out doing work in the zoo rather than here, nothing to occupy his mind but the patterns on the quilt. His fingers traced them lazily, like a turtle moving about on a warm summer’s day. The room itself was nothing too extravagant, just the bed and a small, utilitarian desk with a few papers scattered on top. His window was identical to Deryn’s across the hall, and an image of himself climbing through it came to his mind.
He jolted out of his trance to find Newkirk perched in the doorway. “Hmm?”
“Do you mind if I talk to you for a bit? It’s barking maddening by myself.”
“Please do. As a matter of fact, I was just thinking the same thing.”
The boy sat at the desk, pulling a knee up to his chest and hugging it close. “Do you ever miss your ma and pa? I haven’t seen mine since I left home for the Service, not even heard from them.”
Sadness shone in his eyes, and Alek could imagine it reflected in his own. “Yes. I miss them often, Mr. Newkirk.”
His eyes widened, “Oh--I forgot. Your parents--they’re--”
“Dead, yes.” He was surprised how it was almost easy to say that now. The pain was still a knife in his chest, but it had dulled ever so slightly, replaced by a new feeling. “What is your family like, Mr. Newkirk? I do not believe you’ve ever told me about them.”
He shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “There really isn’t much to say, Alek. I got a younger sister, and my ma and pa.”
“Well, Laura’s a feisty one. She once got in a fight with a boy her age for saying she couldn’t beat him. Her eye was bruised for a week, but the boy was worse off,” he shook his head, remembering.
“She sounds a lot like Der--Lilit. You haven’t met her, have you?”
“No. You’ll have to introduce me sometime.”
“Indeed, I will.” Alek cursed silently for his slip of tongue. “Are you really so much of Monkey Luddites as Dylan says?”
Newkirk gave him a withering look. “Aye, my ma is. Da isn’t as hard about it, though. He don’t like the creatures, but he has to work with them every day in the mines.”
“Where do you live?”
“Easington. It’s a mining town along the coast of Britain. Small place,” he tilted his head wistfully.
“This may sound like a strange question,” Alek started, unsure how to phrase his words, “But what is your first name?”
The boy stood up and thrust out his hand, laughing. “Midshipman Eugene Newkirk, at your service. Great name, I know. You can call me Singe, if you like. My mates back at home gave me the nickname after an incident with some coal... and I guess it fits more now after my adventure on the huxley...”
“I think I will--Singe,” he took his hand and shook it. “Aleksandar von Hohenberg.”
“It’s kind of strange,” Singe sat down on the bed, “you being a barking prince and all. You could have ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire! If you don’t mind my asking, why give it all away?”
Now it was Alek’s turn to feel uncomfortable. “Call it providence--it wasn’t meant to be. This--being here, working with the Zoological Society, it is.” With a suppressed groan of pain, Alek moved over to give the other boy more room.
“You found a lass who strikes your fancy, then.” Singe guessed, completely innocent but dangerously close to Deryn’s secret.
“In a sense. Do you have a girl, Singe?”
The look on his face said he wanted to further investigate the matter, but didn’t. “No. There was this one, but she’s got nothing in her attic, if you know what I mean.”
Alek smiled. “You should definitely meet Lilit.”