For a moment, all was still. While I could still hear, and certainly feel, the ion storm raging outside, striking against our hull and rocking the deck beneath our ship, the neutron shielding that we had lowered over our exposed portions protected us from the worst of the damage.
Inside the cockpit, where Mearr, Guhle, Sys, and I stood in the aftermath of Guhle’s declaration that we would float through the rest of the storm, only the sparks from a nearby faulty network cable indicated that anything was wrong with the ship.
For that moment, it seemed as though we has survived relatively unscathed.
Then Mearr looked up and fixed her eyes on me.
“You!” she snarled. And before I knew it, she had leapt up and landed on me, forcing me to the ground as she had in the medical bay some days before.
A flash of metal and a nick on my cheek was the only warning I had. The rest of the crew didn’t even get that much before seeing my knife held in Mearr’s tail.
“This is your fault,” she screamed. “You did this to me.”
I didn’t try to struggle. I knew if I did, it would only anger her more. For the time being, she didn’t seem unstable. And I thought if I didn’t provoke her anymore, perhaps I’d make it out unscathed.
Aside from the scratch on the cheek, of course.
Guhle was the first to speak. Stepping forward tentatively, raising his hands in a placating gesture. I could see that he was ready, however, to attempt disarming Mearr if the opportunity presented itself. The way he held his hands, like an experienced knife-fighter, but hidden in a position of respect.
He was good. That was easy enough for me to tell.
“Mearr,” he said. “Calm down. It was a big storm. We didn’t see it coming. There’s nothing else we could have done.”
I noted the way he refrained from using anyone’s name, grouping us all together into a faceless whole. It was clever, but it wouldn’t work. I knew why she was pissed. And nothing Guhle said would distract her from that.
Besides, I don’t think she was really listening to him, fixated as she was on me.
Her whole body trembled with fury. I thought for a brief moment that I might be able to subdue her if she continued showing such a lack of control, but that idea was quickly proven false.
I saw it coming in the flash of her eyes. Nothing had provoked her. No person or words or event. Simply a conclusion gradually congealing in her mind, settling into a conviction and a plan.
And I knew there was nothing I could do.
“Let’s see how you like being fucked,” she said. I don’t know if anyone else heard her, but they all saw what happened next.
I immediately threw my weight against her, throwing her off balance as she whipped the knifepoint down into my body. She was likely aiming for my gut or groin, but because of my sudden twist, the blade point went into my side instead. Still painful, but far less lethal. I hoped.
The room burst into activity. Guhle threw himself forward, knocking Mearr off me. I gasped full lungs of air and pressed a hand to my side, trying to staunch the flow of blood pouring out onto the deck. My vision was already swimming. It had been a long time since I’d been stabbed. I was out of practice.
Sys stood. Staring with multifaceted eyes. I still had difficulty reading her insectoid features, but it wasn’t difficult to diagnose surprise, shock even, when someone’s best friend and lover attacks a fellow crew mate.
This was going to create problems, I thought as darkness clouded my eyes.
I woke up to the bright, white lights of Cap’s medical room. My throat was dry and an ache in my side prevented me from immediately sitting up and rolling out of the bed. Even so, I attempted, and all it got me was a pained moan.
“Let’s not be moving quite yet,” said Cap, scuttling out of a side chamber where I hadn’t seen him. He raised himself up so he could look out of his containment pod at me at eye level. There was a disapproving look on his face, made all the more disconcerting by his infantile form and features.
I began to ask what happened, but all I got out was “What-?” before I silenced myself with another pained moan. It all came back to me anyway, but that didn’t stop Cap from reminding me with a reprimanding tone.
“Your antics with Mearr finally came out. I’ve been forced to detain him, of course. But that hasn’t stopped everyone else from asking what that all was about. Once she finished her period of isolation, they confronted her and she told them more or less everything.”
Blood drained from my face. “Everything?” I said.
Cap looked at me with a face that said “Yes, isn’t that what I just told you?” before repeating, “Everything.”
I sighed and felt my entire body melt into depression. My muscles, stiff as boards before, were now rubbery and unresponsive. Where before it had been my pain that prevented me from sitting up or speaking or even breathing properly, now it was a complete and total lack of will to do anything but lay there and die.
“What about me?” I said, trying to force myself into life again by addressing immediate concerns.
“What about you?” scoffed Cap. “You’ve caused enough trouble on this ship, don’t you think you should lie low for a while?”
I nodded, though that hadn’t been what I was asking. I tried again. “How long-?” I groaned in pain, unable to finish the sentence. But I pushed through once the ache had subsided. “Do I stay?”
“Until we get to port,” said Cap. “Same as everyone else. But I don’t think you can really expect another job with us anytime soon. If ever.”
Again. Obvious. And so very much not what I was asking. But I can understand the captain’s preoccupation. Especially knowing now what I didn’t then about how volatile the situation had become while I was recovering.
Cabin fever following a stabbing isn’t exactly a healthy combination for morale.
“When can I…get up?” I said.
“Excuse me?” said the captain, misinterpreting my pained pause for an indication of innuendo. “Haven’t your appetites caused enough problems on this ship?”
I began to consider that the captain might be misunderstanding me on purpose. Either that, or he only had a rudimentary understanding of my language based largely on teenagers.
“I mean,” I said, gritting my teeth against the pain. “This.” I banged my fist against the bed. And then I pointed to my side.
“Oh. Your wound. Well, that’s also your fault. Mind explaining why you had a knife on your person?”
“Old habits,” I muttered.
But then I started to think about how Mearr had known where it was hidden. How deftly she had handled it with her tail. Clearly she was not to be trifled with, but was it training or dumb luck that had revealed the location of my weapon to her? Perhaps she had felt it when she had pounced me in the medical bay. Or even earlier, on one of our many midnight rendezvous, and had simply remembered it’s location.
“Well, your old habits nearly killed you,” said Cap, interrupting my contemplation. “Fortunately, the gash didn’t damage any major organs. At least not terminally. So you should make a full recovery in another month or so.”
My eyes widened. “A month?” I said before groaning against the pain.
Another deadpan stare from Cap that seemed to say “Seriously?”
I took several deep breaths to quell the pain before asking my next question. “How long’ve I been-?” Pain cut off the rest of my question.
“About two weeks. It’s a good thing Em only suffered surface wounds from that faulty network cable. I’ve only got one recovery bed.”
I nodded. I had forgotten about Em. “She okay?”
“I said surface wounds, didn’t I?”
I didn’t bother responding to that.
“Anyway. I have to pull this ship back together. So if you’ve finished your interrogation, I’ll be going. Tick-Tock will bring you your food. If you can stomach it. If not, let him know and I’ll hook the IV up again. If you have surprising pain — and I mean the unexpected kind that means you might be dying — press that button there. Otherwise, I’ll check in on you about once a day. Okay?”
I nodded, gritting my teeth.
That seemed to satisfy the captain enough. He didn’t bother saying anything else. Apparently he has said more than enough already. So he scuttled out of the room, closing the door behind him and leaving me to the silence.