Disclaimer: I am not SW, so I don't own the characters, creatures, or settings he created. I do, however, own the stuff I did.
“Breakfast?” Singe asked, leaning around the doorway into Ronnie’s cell.
“Is that you, Eugene?” She called back to him, straining her eyes in the darkness. Singe quickly pulled out his whistle and piped for the wormlight hanging in the ceiling to glow. She squinted at it for a moment, blinking, then turned to grin at him. “It is you,” she said brightly, her face bright green but spotted with dark shadows. It was still before dawn, and they would be over Unst in less than five hours.
The cooks would be the only crewmen up at this hour, preparing the half rations for all of the crew—even the guards had nodded off—and in their early morning groggy state, they hadn’t objected to giving out the prisoners’ meals a bit ahead of time; the first of it would already be cold when the men woke up, anyway. He’d merely said he’d been getting a head start on his middy’s duties for the day—or, rather, he had gotten up early so he could carry out his plan and only be partially behind on his tasks, but he’d conveniently left that part out.
He brandished the two biscuits, cups of coffee, and meager servings of potatoes like they were the King’s feast. The meals were set down on Ronnie’s bed, and she sat on her pillow, he opposite her, their legs crossed as they leaned over the food and dug in. Singe picked up his biscuit, tearing it in half without hesitation. The first was eaten in a single bite, the second placed on the girl’s tray. In the dim light, she frowned at him. “The food is yours,” she insisted, and flicked the small half back onto his plate. “You eat it.”
Shaking his head, he deliberately plucked up the biscuit, holding it in the air between them. “If I eat this biscuit, you agree to eat half of my potatoes and tour the ship with me before the rest of the crew wakes up.”
Her mouth formed that little “o” shape it always did when she was surprised. “You are allowed to do that?”
Singe bit his tongue. “You’re avoiding my question,” he countered, avoiding her question. She closed her mouth and swallowed, her brow creasing into little wrinkles.
“I would love to do that,” Ronnie admitted, “but I do not want you to be in trouble.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said quietly, meeting her deep green eyes. She held his gazed for a moment, so intense that he felt a clenching in his heart and his lungs stop working in shock. Ronnie was breathtaking, even though her blond hair was covered in grime and tangled in knots, her skin darkened by grease and her fingernails were chewed to stubs. She had an aura about her, one that drew Singe to her. To distract himself, he lifted up the piece of bread so that it blocked his line of sight into her eyes.
He smirked at her, pulling his biscuit apart and placing half of his potatoes inside. Dumping the other part onto her plate, he swallowed his sandwich. “Eat up,” Singe said with his mouth full, “We’ve got a long tour ahead of us.”
“Would you like to see the message lizard room or the mess hall next?”
Ronnie chewed on her lip thoughtfully. “I do not need any more food,” she said, grinning at him impishly, “So we shall see lizards now.”
He reached down for her hand to lead her there, but drew it back sharply, placing it on her shoulder instead and steering her out of the room. The corridors were still dark, the wormlamps resting because no crewman would have use of them… yet. Singe estimated they had another half an hour before the general wake-up call was sounded.
Rounding a corner, he pulled her into the second room on the left. “Now you have to be quiet,” he said, “or the lizards will all wake up and start chattering. Barking unsettling, that is.”
Ronnie’s silhouette nodded mutely, her eyes twinkling. Singe took out his handheld wormlamp from his pocket, and the soft green glow filled the small room. On either side of them were cages about the size of a man’s head, stacked up to the ceiling all the way to the end of the room. The far side was filled with the boffin’s desk.
It looked different than usual.
In truth, he’d only been in there once or twice, but Dr. Williams’ desk wasn’t easy to forget. He was the most unorganized boffin Singe had met in the Service, and he had always left papers and files strewn about his desk and rarely could the fabricated wood be seen through them.
Now it was spotless. The files were stacked neatly into a single small pile, and a wooden filing cabinet was filled with papers, organized alphabetically. One of the cages was in the center of the desk, holding three message lizards. They looked normal enough, but none of them were asleep like the rest of the beasties in the room. Two kept twitching. Singe looked closely at the plaque that should have said Williams’ name, and then he swallowed a gasp of surprise.
The dully shining surface read, “Sebastian Fitzroy”.
“What are they for?” asked Ronnie’s voice incredulously.
“Uh, this isn’t really all that interesting of a place,” he whispered, pushing her back toward the door.
“Yes it is,” she whispered back, resisting him.
Taking a step back, he stumbled and fell onto the wall of the cages, and immediately groggy voices filled the room. Ronnie’s face paled, and she backed out of the room. “They have seen us? You will get in trouble?” she said when they’d made it into the hallway.
“No,” he assured her, “That was the message lizards talking. It’s what they’re for.”
“It’s okay, really.” He placed his hand on her shoulder to find she was shaking. Ronnie shied away from him, avoiding his eyes.
“I thought that...”
“Sh. It will be fine, I promise. Now, do you still not want to go to the mess hall?”
“Then we have just one last stop and the grand tour of the Leviathan.”
“I will admit that Darwinism is amazing,” she said, after “wow”ing for about the tenth time in the in as many minutes. She wasn’t like most Clankers, the kind who shuddered at even the thought of a fabricated beastie; she always went in for a closer look, from the bees to even the gastric channels. At the moment they were exploring the recycling systems located just to the right of the gastric channels, directly above the gondola’s back end. The beasties here, slug like things the size of dogs, ate all the paper the crewmen were done with—classified mail that needed disposing, letters that had been read so many times they’d fallen apart, simple stationary notes—and spit it back out as clean pulp that could be pressed back into new paper. “I do not know that we have anything that can do this,” she said, “at least not where I have been.”
“Well, we are pretty amazing,” Singe said, puffing out his chest in a gesture of mock bragging.
“I know you are,” she muttered.
Spluttering, Singe replied, “I don’t even understand half of this barking stuff! I fall asleep during lectures!”
She punched him on the arm playfully. “You? No…” A mischievous grin was tilting the corners of her mouth.
He regretted teaching her sarcasm.
A half-asleep crewman stumbled into the room at that moment, and Singe pulled Rachel by the arm in between two of the sleeping beasties. They let off a thick odor, and a puddle of slime had gathered around one of them. Don’t think about it! Singe told himself. He took a fleeting glance at the watch on his wrist, and cursed under his breath. They’d lost track of time, and now the entire crew would be awake in a matter of minutes.
The airman looked about dazedly for a moment as if wondering how he’d gotten there and then turned away, muttering something about the bathroom. Singe counted to ten and then ushered Rachel out into the corridor. They rushed through the least used hallways to get back to the brig and managed to get back into the cell without a sound, the guards still snoozing lightly. The instant the door had closed, they broke into insane giggles. “We made it,” Singe gasped, clutching his side and trying to regain control.
“Yes, yes,” Rachel laughed, and Singe stepped toward her, leaning down until his forehead was against hers. He looked deep into her widened eyes, closing the few inches to kiss her.
She turned from him so that his lips landed on her cheek, and said “Shouldn’t you be giving Tad his food?” with a pointed look at the tray he placed on the fabricated wood in the corner before they’d left.
He closed his eyes tightly, bringing himself back into reality. She was still a prisoner on the opposite side of the war, and he couldn’t do this with her. “Yes,” he said solemnly. “I’ll be back with dinner,” he added without a look over his shoulder.
“Goodbye,” she called softly after him. He could hear traces of shame in that one word, and was that… disappointment?
He shook his head, clearing it of her aura. It was no wonder the Service didn’t allow girls aboard willingly. At least, not very often. They were too distracting.
The door squeaked open and Singe shouldered his way in to Tad’s cell. “Rise and shine!” he called boisterously, expecting to find the Clanker curled up on his cot, still asleep. Instead, he was sitting up in bed, eyes fixed on Singe.
“Well, where’s my ‘grand tour?’”