CautionEagerDesire. Ugh. They’re at it, again? Well, I was going to wait until the end of the trip, but I may as well get out of here before it starts smelling like a whorehouse.
I was careful not to make any noise or draw on the power battery. Sliding my armor on was easy enough, though turning off the fluid without letting Domenic know something weird was going on took a bit more work. By the time I got out of the room, the two of them were making happy little noises that I could have heard from the deck if I put any effort into it.
I walked out on deck, with just enough of a glance to note where all the crew members were; most of those I could see were busy with water hoses and brushes, cleaning the muck of the ocean floor off our canon. When they noticed me, they all looked with both caution and desire. They wanted me, they feared me, they respected me. It felt good to know I was more than just a prisoner of two teenagers who were too stupid to fuck properly.
I kept my mouth-plate open, and even smiled as I walked across the deck in the twilight. Full moon, too, how appropriate. Don’t worry, little sheep, the wolf is after bigger game than you, tonight.
I added a bit more sway to my step and went off to find Captain Cline. He was, as expected, with Jasmine, watching the last bit of sunlight vanish beneath the ocean. Davin wasn’t far off, talking with a couple of the sailors. I figured they were babysitting him, but they were both smiling and laughing along with him.
With a wet pop, my ears changed so I could hear them as if they were right next to me.
“Heh, okay, okay, I got one!” One of the sailors said; I hadn’t bothered to learn their names. “What! Is the airspeed velocity! Of an unladen swallow!”
The other sailor groaned and laughed at the same time. “Oh, come on, that’s the best you can come up with?” After some more laughter, he leaned in to his buddy. “Think he’ll ask if we mean the European or African?”
Davin smiled and laughed along, though it didn’t seem he understood the joke any better than I did. “There are nineteen genera and eight-three species of swallow, found on every continent except Antarctica. Their average flight speeds range between thirty and forty miles an hour.”
My power still thought he was dangerous, and now I understood why. He could learn almost anything anyone knew, and do it so fast that the only way to be faster was to know the answer before the question was asked. This included, with a little work, figuring out who I was and telling the cops.
His illness was the only thing which kept him from being a deadly threat to me and mine. Whatever else, I’d do my best to ensure he stayed as far away from me as possible for the rest of my life, which meant giving his sister reasons to stay away from me. Two goals at once, let’s see how that goes.
I meandered over to Paul and Jaz, taking the steps that would get me as close as possible without him or any of the crew knowing what I was doing, then I leaned my stomach on the railing of the ship. I listened for Paul coming up behind me, with Jaz’s footsteps trailing a little further back. I rolled over, so now the small of my back pressed into the rail.
“I’m sure with your powers, you’ve got nothing to fear from going over, but I’m afraid you’re making my men a little nervous.” His eyes flicked over to where they’d be, behind him, but it was an act on his part. He was nervous for a different reason. “I’m sorry that it’s inconvenient, but we all agreed it’s better if your stays separate from the crew.”
Behind him, off to the side a little, Jasmine fidgeted. She knew, not who I was, but she knew what I was, what all Imbued were at their core: the weapons of the gods. Every one of us, even her beloved retarded brother, were war machines in human form. Jaz knew to fear us, but her boyfriend did not.
Tonight, I would train him to know better. “I take it you’re worried about the ship that’s following us?”
His eyes widened, his heart hammered, and he knew fear. “Uh,” he hesitated, knowing he had to say something to Jaz; she wouldn’t approve of the truth. Too small, too timid, more frail than she thought her brother was. I wanted to crack open his skull and watch the tiny little gears put together the lies that would save him. “There should be a ship following behind, standard procedure out here. Are you saying something’s wrong with it?”
I knew nothing of the ‘standard procedures’ they had, but I knew he was lying, and he knew I knew. The only one fooled was Jaz, and only because she wanted to be. If she asked Davin, there was a good chance the lie would crumble, but she wouldn’t ask. “Right now, they’re not in my range. Maybe I can use your ship’s equipment to boost it? If they don’t answer when you radio them, that is.”
“Okay, I’ll go with. Some of that equipment’s expensive.” He turned to look at Jaz, with a smile that could have gotten him elected President. “You should keep an eye on Davin. If we have to rescue the rescue ship, well, you told me how he gets when his routines are disrupted too much.”
“Sure, I can do that,” she said. Her smile, fragile as it was, returned. Far as she was concerned, it didn’t matter; whatever bad thing might be happening, it wasn’t happening to her little world. That was all that mattered to her, and in that we were alike. The difference was she hid and needed others to protect her, while I had the strength and power to make the bad things go away.
Cline stepped close to her, then kissed her forehead in a way that reminded me of Dom and Chloe. With more lies. “Please don’t let on to him or the men that something may be wrong. I wouldn’t want any of them to worry over what’s probably nothing. I don’t want you to worry over nothing, either. I’m the captain, that’s my job.”
“Right,” Jaz smiled at the ‘trust’ she was given, then rushed off to her brother. She even managed to do it without looking suspicious.
I should blackmail this guy for tips on lying; he’s a genius at it. I said nothing, gave no hint that I knew so little about how ships worked that I couldn’t tell which of parts were complete bullshit, and which were half-truths. I began to walk to the control room, and listened for his boots echoing off the metal of the ship.
“Let’s cut to the chase, then,” he said. “What do you think you know?”
Almost nothing. “More than enough.” Only reason I know I’m on the right track is your heart bouncing in its cage like a hen watching a fox dig under the fence. “There’s been a ship following along behind us almost the moment we left port. I bet they got some kinda Imbued. Maybe someone that can walk on the ocean floor? Or Thassans?”
Cline stumbled at the mention of Thassans, then caught up with me. “No, none of them.”
I had no idea what Thassans even were, but from what I gathered by listening to the sailors, they sounded like pirate supervillains with weird, ocean-related powers. I used the name to get put him off balance, and it worked like a charm. “Well, whatever’s going on, they’re dropping into the ocean behind us and sailing off with all kinds of loot, aren’t they? Bet if the cops searched their ship, there’d be hell to pay.”
Paul’s chuckle was warmer than I’d expected. “Dad always said not to get mixed up with you people. Nothin’ but trouble, he’d say. Better to work hard and earn it the ol’ fashioned way than take shortcuts and deals with the devil.” He sighed, then ran his hand through his mop of hair. “Guess you ain’t here to listen to why I’m doin’ it?”
Ah, the point where your victim begs for sympathy and tells you their life story, as if somehow it’ll make their sad lives matter enough to let them live. I’ve missed you. “I assume you’re doing it for the money, same as me.”
We walked a little before he broke the silence. “Close enough.” By now, we’d reached the control room. He went in first, and even held the door open for me. “Hey, Charlie, lady needs to use the line. Go ahead and take five on me.”
“Sure thing, Captain.” Charlie, apparently, was older than the captain by a few years, but seemed more than happy to be ordered not to do his job. We didn’t have long to wait before we could get back to more important matters.
“You’ve known from the beginning,” he said. “Standard blackmail scenario, I take it?”
I tilted my head back to look at the ceiling, then smiled. Losers have drugs, winners have this moment, when the loser lay broken in front of them. The bigger, stronger the beast, the greater the glory and sweeter the victory. By that measure, Cline was better than most. “Close enough.”
“If you report this, they might ask why you waited so long to come forward.” As with all good prey, he made one last-ditch attack to save himself. “You’ve got as much to lose as I do.”
Oh, I’ve way more to lose than you know. “What? You think they’ll lock up an Imbued over this? My partners don’t know what I’m up to, and if you play nice they never will. If it gets out, well, I apologize, maybe pay a fine, and then go save a few kids from a burning orphanage or something and all is forgiven. I’m so new I don’t even have a costumed name yet. You, on the other hand, well… I think your reputation means a lot more to you than mine means to me.”
He slumped down into a chair, next to one of the machines I knew nothing about. Ah, the final moment before death, when they’ve given up completely. They know they’ve lost, and can’t make themselves care even to save their own lives. The ultimate surrender. Almost makes up for all the sex I’m not getting.
“After all the splits, there’s less money than you might expect. Covers expenses, with a bit extra, but with all the ethics oversights, I can’t just throw money around without getting caught.”
He’s telling the truth. Damn. Plan B it is, then. “Oh, I’m not interested in your illegal money. In fact, I don’t want a dime of it. I want to be able to stand right next to a Truthsayer and say everything we got was legal and above board.”
He looked up at me, and for the first time the boyish mask he wore fell away, replaced by utter confusion. “If that’s the case, then why…?”
Because I’m bored and this is the closest thing I have to fun right now. “I want you to know that I know, is all.” I let the silence go on until he was almost ready to say something. “And, maybe, so you remember it in the future.”
The confusion faded, and now that he knew my game, he could put his own mask back on. “Oh, trust me, this is one night I’ll never forget.”
Cute. “All I’m saying is, we’ll want to come back out here some day, and it would be nice if our next contract is better than this one. Maybe some nice bonuses. I just want you to convince me you’ve given us the best deal you can give us, is all.”
“And if I don’t agree, you can just report me,” Paul said as he climbed to his feet. “Then your partners file a lawsuit arguing that the contract was made in bad faith, and have it annulled. The publicity means you’ll have a bidding war next time around. Even the ones who know you’re a liability will have to get involved, if only for competitive purposes. You’ll get your share through them, huh?”
I didn’t understand most of the words he’d just said, let alone have such a complex plot. All I knew was that I won, and that was the only thing that mattered. “More or less.”
He extended his hand out to me, and the smile wasn’t completely fake. “Hey, if you’re gonna lose, may as well lose to the best, right?”
“Wouldn’t know. I’ve never lost.” I grabbed his hand, and let him squeeze so hard he would have crushed a normal girl’s hand. “Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I don’t want to find out anything bad’s happened to Jaz or Davin.” Then I squeezed back.