A/N: So, guys, it really has been a long time, I’m aware. And I’m also aware that you’re all probably really fed up with me for having taken so long. I apologize, really. I sincerely hope that this chapter eases some of your anger.
I’ve noticed lately that my Newkirk/Singe chapters seem to be longer than Deryn or Alek’s, and I like to think that’s because I’ve been able to add more layers to him than I could the other two well-defined characters. That still in no way makes him mine, a fact that I’ve come to terms with. *goes to cry in a corner* But back to the point, this is, in fact, a six-ish page chapter, which averages at me writing about a page a week... err. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea for me to say that. Now you may all be raising your eyebrow and saying how it should be easy to write that much more quickly. Well, to you I say
(^Really long A/N. Sorry.)
(At this point, I’ve been asked by a few readers to provide a short summary of what’s happened most recently in the story and is pertinent to this chapter just in case y’all forgot and don’t want to reread the whole last chapter, and since I’m acknowledging that I’ve taken ridiculously long to update, I will oblige. The rundown: Rachel told the captain and Singe that there are Orion Alphas on the ship, and they were set to destroy it at about, oh, NOW, so Singe ran to go figure out a way to stop it. Deryn and Alek were making out when the Klaxon went off, so they went topside to figure out what was going on, and in the meantime Max and Fitzroy were battling it out over some ROBTs [Roth Aerial Battle Turtles]. Alek goes to help Max, and in trying to be heroic gets himself SHOT. No big deal. In the next chapter, Deryn slaps him and sends him with Max to the ground on a ROBT half-conscious, and makes Singe go after Fitzroy, who’s escaping on a turtle. She also tries to figure out how to get the Orion, which are message lizard automatons, off the ship, at which point they start shooting sparks/flames into tiny holes in the membrane. Tada!)
Now on to the good stuff.
He wasn’t getting any closer.
No matter how low he crouched over the turtle’s back or pleaded silently with the motivator engine or urged the turtle along, the distance between himself and Fitzroy refused to lessen.
“Come on, come on,” he muttered, rubbing the turtle’s neck the way Max had told him to and trying not to look down. He glanced quickly at the engine, checking yet again to make sure it was on high.
Singe dared to glance down.
The ground tripped along below him sluggishly, wind whipping through the dense pine trees. It was even stronger up here, pushing almost at his back.
The wind. His head shot up, and he crawled to the back of the turtle, where the engine sat nestled near its tail.
With a small, quick adjustment to a lever on the engine, Singe changed his direction so he was traveling with the wind, at a slightly diagonal course to Fitzroy.
Singe let himself smile as he drew level with Sebastian, who was kneeling just behind the turtle’s head. The boy’s eyes had gone wide, but now the corners of his mouth were pulled into a scowl. A space of twenty-five feet stretched between them laterally now.
“It’s a pity I haven’t shot you already,” Sebastian called over the wind, reaching for the the air pistol in his waistband and evaluating it with a mournful glare, “Because at this distance this pathetic weapon wouldn’t even pierce your skin, and I don’t waste bullets on bruises.”
“How unfortunate,” Singe replied dully, while at the same time trying to steady his furiously shaking hands. In truth, he was relieved that the boy wasn’t about to shoot him on the spot, but knew that getting close enough to stop him would mean putting himself in range of much more than a bruise.
He swallowed hard.
Why hadn’t he thought to bring a weapon of his own? The small mounted gun in the center of the turtle’s back was not loaded--he’d already checked--and by assumption, neither was Fitzroy’s. He hadn’t even given is a second glance.
Still by the steering lever, he pushed it slowly--very slowly, so that maybe Fitzroy wouldn’t notice too quickly--away from himself. Ever so slightly, his turtle began inching toward the other.
The wind bit into his back through only his flight suit; Singe’s shirt was wadded up as a bandage to stop the blood running out of Alek’s body. It sent up a chill up his spine and reminded him coldly that this was not a time for caution--or stupidity.
“I’m surprised you’ve come after me,” Sebastian said, not looking at him. “I thought you’d be back on the ship trying to save your girlfriend. Rachel, I think it was, wasn’t it?”
Hearing her name felt like a kick to his chest. It knocked the breath out of him, and he nearly doubled over. He didn’t say anything.
“She wasn’t very nice. Every time I tried to talk to her, she pretended not to know any English. Now, on the other hand, I know that she speaks our language quite well.” Singe was finally close enough to hear everything Sebastian said without the wind tearing some of it away.
The boy watched him closely, searching for any reaction.
“When did you talk to her?” Singe asked.
In the moment of silence that followed, he stole a look at the ship behind him. It was descending as a quickly as an airship could, so slow that it was like the world was in slow motion. There was smoke rising from a few points on the membrane, but he was too far away to see any fire. He could hear the men’s shouts and cries, though.
As he turned back to Fitzroy, he checked his maths that it would take more than three minutes for the entire ship to light. The hydrogen within the beast’s body needed oxygen to catch flame, and the Orion could only make small holes for the air to get into. Deryn still had time. It wasn’t very much, but it had to be enough.
“When we were in the mountains, of course,” Fitzroy said blankly. “Where did you think I was after I was relieved of duty on the Leviathan?” When Singe didn’t respond, he continued. “I figure you may as well know, considering that when you come a few feet closer, I’ll kill you.”
Suddenly his mouth felt dry, and his hand jerked back on the lever automatically so he wouldn’t go any further. Fifteen feet had to be close enough.
But close enough for what?
“You were in the Kjolen with the Clankers?” Singe stared, though he wasn’t really surprised. It figured that Fitzroy should be a traitor.
“Yes, you daft fool. You really are thick, aren’t you? All I ever wanted was to work on that stupid ship like a good little middy, and until your friend Dylan came aboard, I could have had that and slowly made my way up to a higher position--even captain, someday. Maybe I still will, if he decides to let the airfleet continue to exist.
“But you. You were never supposed to get out alive. Do you know how long we searched for you? You are one slippery little boy, Newkirk. And you know too much.”
He raised his gun and fired within the space of a second. It made a pop, and the bullet whizzed harmlessly past his head, stirring the air by his ear no more than the wind. Fitzroy barely gave him time to react before he shot again, and this time it tore through the fabric of his shirt-sleeve, stinging his skin. He didn’t look, but he could feel the blood well up from it.
Singe hissed, getting to his feet. The wind hit him a little harder, and he balanced low the turtle’s back. Fitzroy took more care in aiming now, watching Singe with predatory green eyes.
Somehow, over the roar of the wind, Singe heard the click of a bullet sliding into the chamber. In a moment of absolute clarity, he launched himself at the Fitzroy, intending to knock the boy off balance and possibly off the edge. The muscles in his legs protested at the effort he put into the jump, desperate to make it the full seven feet.
But he’d failed to account for the beast sinking back under the force of his push. From the moment he was extended in the air, he knew he wouldn’t make it. The jump had been a stretch in the first place, but now it was near impossible. So instead he reached as far as he could to maybe just reach Fitzroy.
If he fell to his death, he wanted to bring this traitor with him.
A shot rang out, but it passed nowhere near Singe. Even if it had, he wouldn’t have felt it. He was too shocked to care about anything other than the fact that his fingers had managed to hook onto the belt holding the harness to the turtle’s back.
The beast listed dangerously to one side. The vibrations of Sebastian losing his footing shook into Singe’s fingers, cold even through his gloves, and he swung his other hand up for a better grip. It scraped once against the turtle’s shell before he caught hold, swinging himself around to face the way he’d come.
To Singe’s disappointment, Fitzroy regained balance. As he advanced slowly up the belt, hand over hand, the double-crosser’s head appeared over the side, red with barely contained rage. The upside-down barrel of his air pistol materialized beside him, so Singe used his own momentum to kick Sebastian’s wrist.
The boy cried out in fury as the gun tumbled to the ground looming below them, glinting as it fell and reminding Singe of just how precariously he was poised over his own doom. Just thinking about it tore a strangled laugh from his throat.
Sixteen was too young to be contemplating your own death.
Fitzroy retreated topside, and with detached urgency, like it wasn’t he hanging from a giant turtle’s belly a hundred feet above the ground but someone he barely knew, he stretched an arm around the top of the turtle, looking for a hold to pull himself up, and suddenly felt a crushing pain in his gloved fingers, pinning his hand between the shell and Fitzroy’s boot.
He swore extravagantly. Of all the pain he’d felt in his life, there was nothing quite like the feeling of pressure on cold extremities. It may not have been the worst, but certainly memorable.
“If you let go now, I’ll spare you the pain of having your fingers cut off. I hear it’s a painful experience,” the traitor reasoned, twisting his boot around on Singe’s hand. He could just imagine the sadistic grin on Fitzroy’s face as Singe cried out.
“Okay,” he said, voice strained. “Okay, I’ll let go. Just--ah!” His fingers crunched, though Singe still hoped none were broken.
“Don’t lie to me!”
The pain brought tears to his eyes, and they stung freezing on his face. He ignored it, searching with his own boot along the turtle’s belly for some sort of foothold. Then he grit his teeth and jumped his hand toward the other side of the beast, clambering to get his sore fingers around the belt again. For an excruciating moment he’d been hanging by only a foot and the hand pinned under Fitzroy.
He bit his tongue and forced his hand to relax. Sebastian’s boot dug in a little more, and he repressed the urge to clench his fingers again. “Please let me go,” he called up, all the while worming his hand farther to the other side. The muscles in his leg and arm burned with the extended ache of holding himself up.
A moment of indecision on Fitzroy’s part gave him the chance. The force on his hand lessened just enough that he could pull it out, feeling the bottom of Fitzroy’s shoe tear at his skin as it pulled his glove off. The cold air stung his bare hand.
Using his momentum, Singe brought his leg up around the turtle’s belly, and with frantic speed clambered onto the creature’s back. Fitzroy whipped around to see him on hands and knees, gritted teeth surrounded by a malicious smile and rigging knife already drawn.
“Let me get this straight,” Singe said, not taking his eyes off of Fitzroy as he leaned back on his haunches. “You’re a Clanker now.”
“No,” Fitzroy snapped, fingering his own rigging knife. “Despite what you may believe, I am still loyal to Darwinist principles.”
“But you are working with them, so that means...” he trailed off as a light turned on in his head, illuminating all the pieces of the puzzle as they slid into place.
When he’d first been in those mountains, and after the bombs had gone off, he’d seen crates with the seal of the old sultan of the Ottoman Empire on them. He hadn’t paid much attention to them before, but something Alek had said to him the day they’d had shore leave in Unst had been tickling the back of his mind. The shopkeeper who’d made his clothes had told him that the locals believed that the sultan was hiding in the nearby mountains.
It had seemed impossible at the time, considering how far away it was from Istanbul, but no one really knew where he’d gone. The more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed.
“You’ve been working for the Sultan. He really is trying to get revenge on Churchill and all of Great Britain!” He pointed a single, numb finger accusingly at Fitzroy.
Fitzroy’s lip twisted into something between a sneer and a grin. “Bravo. It only took you--what?--a month? And you’ve only managed to let your beloved bosun, a few middies, and countless airmen die in the meantime. That’s quite the accomplishment.”
Singe bit down a retort and instead catapulted himself at Fitzroy.
The boy braced for the impact, and Singe hit a hard wall. He jumped back instantly, parrying a swipe from Sebastian’s knife. His face, already red with cold, turned even more so in anger.
Fitzroy thrust his blade at Singe’s stomach, and he sidestepped and grabbed Fitzroy’s arm, twisting it. The traitor yelped and punched at Singe’s jaw with his free hand. He lurched back, and Fitzroy’s knuckles only grazed his cheek.
A gust of wind rose up, throwing Singe off balance. He staggered back, pulling Sebastian with him and giving the boy a few crucial inches. He was nearing the edge and the oblivion below it. His foot caught on the boot Fitzroy had stuck out, dropping him to the turtle’s shell hard. Fitzroy quickly pounced onto Singe, straddling his torso and effectively pinning his arms down, pushing an elbow against his throat.
He couldn’t mistake the glint of triumph in Fitzroy’s eyes.
Singe thrashed, but knew it was no good, and with each kick Fitzroy’s elbow pressed a little harder. He could feel the empty space below his head, his hair tickling in the breeze. When his vision went starry, he stopped struggling.
“Are you going to kill me now,” he choked, voice barely a whisper as he fought for breath, “or watch me die when I hit the ground?”
“I don’t know yet, Newkirk,” Fitzroy growled, running his tongue along his teeth, “but until I decide, I think I’ll make you suffer.”
The knife in his free hand came down, the blade pressing against the skin on Singe’s face, right over the scar he’d gained from a flechette bat nearly two months ago, just hard enough to break the skin. He squeezed his eyes closed and strained away.
A line of blood trickled down the side of his face, and the frigid high-altitude air froze it to his skin. As he clenched his fists at his sides, Singe remembered one very important thing:
Fitzroy hadn’t taken away his knife.
He forced himself to stay absolutely still even as Sebastian’s blade trailed along his scar and opened his eyes wide, staring directly into his attacker’s eyes.
That stalled him a moment. The pain in his face stopped, and Sebastian had just opened his mouth to speak when Singe used his limited arm leverage to drive his rigging knife into the back of Fitzroy’s thigh. He didn’t know how far it penetrated, but it startled Fitzroy enough that Singe could take the chance to push the lad off of himself.
He threw Fitzroy sideways, and he crashed into the motivator engine. It sputtered and went silent, now crooked in its place. His knife sailed harmlessly off the side of the turtle, falling silently. Blood was beginning to stain Fitzroy’s flight suit.
The wind whistled in Singe’s ears--or maybe it was the adrenaline pumping through his body and out the wounds in his skin. He licked his lips, dry as sandpaper, and held up his rigging knife once more.
The setting sun reflected red on his blade.
He swallowed roughly, breathing hard. His windpipe burned, blood continued to trickle down his cheek, and the fight had reignited the pain in his arm from it having been broken in the past.
All in all, he was tired of fighting.
There was too much death and fighting and blood and pain in the world to ever be rid of it, because it was everywhere and it always would be. But that didn’t mean he had to take part in any of it.
Singe sighed heavily and stepped away from Fitzroy’s crumpled body. He knew better than to let his guard down, so he kept his knife in his sleeve, readily accessible. “Get up,” he called hoarsely.
Fitzroy’s head turned to face him, but he didn’t stand.
“Get up,” he repeated.
“Why? Are you to honorable to kill a man on the ground?” His eyes were so filled with hate, it was hard to meet his gaze.
“In reality, you’re on the back of a turtle.” The joke felt foreign on his tongue, something that belonged anywhere but here. “But that isn’t why. Get up.”
He gestured at the boy lying on the ground, jaw quivering. Suddenly, his eyes welled with tears, but he didn’t let them come.
“What possible reason could you have for making me stand?” he demanded, voice unsteady as the color drained from his face. He was losing blood fast.
Singe whistled shortly, calling his original Battle Turtle back to him. It had been floating lazily about seventy-five yards behind them. The cilia on its legs worked furiously to bring it towards them, and the turtle’s trunk like legs swung back and forth like it were walking.
But he wasn’t looking at that.
Without his bidding his eyes had fixed on the Leviathan, flames blossoming on the beast’s membrane. The captain, after having listened to Ronnie tell them about the Orion Alphas, must have commanded the engine pods to bring the ship down as fast as possible, and the hydrogen vented out the back of the ship, toward the bottom, because licks of flame trailed behind but didn’t seem threatening.
The beast’s nose was headed straight for the loch.
It was then that the strangest thing happened. The searchlights on the gondola popped on, great beams of light that would penetrate deep into the water. They flashed in seemingly random patterns, and at first Singe wondered if it were an accident.
He could hear the alarmed shouts from crewmen, see the smoke rising from the ship, licked by flame.
The water directly below the ship began to stir, bubbles roiling more furiously beneath the surface with each passing second. From the water rose a massive spine adorning a plated back the size of the Leviathan itself. Tentacles sprung out around the beast, dripping dark water, followed by a pair of beady eyes and a gaping maw large enough to swallow a navy ship.
A hand wrapped around his ankle and tugged him to his knees, jarring his hands as he fell on the hard shell. The knife slid from his sleeve and he caught it easily, hilt upside down in his palm, and he pivoted sharply around to face the boy who just wouldn’t give up. He made an upward slash at Fitzroy, catching him on the bridge of his nose just enough to leave a thin red line.
He wasted no time with another blow, driving Fitzroy farther back. The traitor scuttled away, realizing how poor his decision had been and favoring his left leg extremely. Singe sprung to his feet, wiping away cold sweat from his brow as he advanced on Sebastian.
The boy’s palm slid in a splash of his own blood, and he crashed down violently. He spat a few choice curses at Singe, pain written on his face as a drop of blood spilled into his eye.
Eugene Newkirk didn’t allow himself to breathe or even to think.
He pushed Fitzroy off the side of the turtle.
He killed him.
Singe couldn’t bring himself to watch the boy no older than himself fall to his death, but he still heard his terrified cry as it faded into nothing, and a rustling of his impact on the pines below.
A hiss rose from behind him, and he turned shakily to see the Leviathan in a cloud of steam and the Behemoth squirting it with water. The dark, hazy smoke that had risen from the air beast turned into the bright white of evaporating water, and with the added weight the ship drifted the distance to shore and landed on the beach, sliding in far enough that only the rudders on its tail dipped into the water.
He could not see a single fire.
Singe hopped onto the other turtle and angled it toward the downed but alive air beast. The other Roth Aerial Battle Turtle would follow in its own, slow time.
His hands, one bare and bloody knuckled and the other gloved and clutching a stained rigging knife, trembled on the steering lever, and as he looked out over the forest at the deep red of the setting sun, he allowed a single tear to roll down his cheek.