Flossie had a jacket on, so she was more or less covered up. Laney seemed to think of Flossie’s exposed skin as a kind of challenge, two redheads vying for title of most ogled tart at sea.
Laney stood straighter, shoulders back, chest out. She had a general military bearing about her, so it could have just been her martial training. The way she stared into Flossie’s cleavage suggested there might be more to it. If you stare into the abyss…
For once, I felt no awkwardness around nudity. I think context has a lot to do with it. When we encounter someone in distress, nipples don’t hold the same fascination. And also, Flossie’s emergence from inside her dragon shell had been far too disgusting to be sexy. Probably the reason no one gets a hard-on watching a birthing video. That, and because it’s a sublime moment that transcends the mundanity of our everyday perception of life, of course. Who doesn’t feel the majesty of existence when they see slimy stuff slither out of a screaming woman’s vagina? Magical.
“Who are all these people,” said Flossie. “Friends of yours?” She said the last part to Laney, as though the idea of them being friends of mine was preposterous. Fair cop.
“This is Damicar,” I said. “He’s from Gorgoth, he likes cooking and taking long walks on the beach.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Damicar. He shook hands with Dudley and held out his hand to shake Flossie’s. She let go of the front of the jacket, which fell open. Damicar went bright red as blood rose from his collar and surged up his face. He coughed loudly, hoping, I think, people would assume the blushing was caused by the violence of his coughing.
“Would you like me to slap you on the back?” Laney asked.
“No, thank you,” said Damicar clearly, his coughing gone. A slap from Laney was likely to break a few ribs.
“Quite a nasty reaction you seem to be having against something.” She gave Flossie a dire look, lip curled in cold amusement.
Flossie smiled inanely, oblivious. Dudley smiled somewhat less inanely but with a glimmer of foresight. The thing about having a girlfriend who’s an unrepentant exhibitionist is that you get good at spotting the warning signs. He reached out and buttoned up the jacket one-handed.
Flossie held onto his extended arm like he had presented it to her out of gallantry, rather than to stop her inadvertently (let’s give her the benefit of the doubt) flashing a shipload of pent-up sailors. Even the undead ones seemed to be twitching at the corners — they were dead, but they weren’t that dead
“And this is Richina,” I said, carrying on because that’s what I do, yo. “She’s part of some global conspiracy to irritate the shit out of me, and also some kind of supernatural key to alternate dimensions. I think she’s a Libra.”
“Oh, that sounds nice,” said Flossie. “I’m a Leo. Are you going to help us free the people of Flatland from oppression?” Who the fuck had she been talking to?
Richina looked miserable, glancing up at the sky like she was waiting for her own dragon to come rescue her. “I’m going to see to it that you all die in screaming agony with your flesh roasting over an open fire,” she muttered.
Flossie frowned and looked at me. “She doesn’t sound like a Libra.”
“She’s on the cusp,” I said, because that explains everything. “Captain? How are we doing?”
Captain Somya was next to the wheel alongside Captain Nokes, who looked like he was stoned, gently rocking back and forth on his heels. The winds and rain had gone, the sea was calm, but now we didn’t seem to be moving at all. The sails were still furled.
“No wind,” said Somya. “We won’t be able to return to port without any wind.”
Sailing 101. Time to switch over to Rowing 101. My suggestion that we break out the oars and get the men below decks was met without enthusiasm.
“My mother wouldn’t like it,” said Captain Somya. “She thinks they need to rest.”
When did mummy take charge? Women, it’s in their nature to mutiny, or to get someone to do it for them.
“Well, don’t tell her.”
“She has a way of knowing when I’m lying to her,” said Somya, sorrowfully. “You shouldn’t lie to your mother.”
Jesus, somehow we’d transferred into Therapy 101. The crew did look a bit knackered after dealing with our mini-monsoon.
“Okay, fine, everyone take five, alright? I have some stuff I need to take care of.” I’d make a terrible slavedriver, I’m just too soft. Pyramids would end up waist-high, and the Sphinx would be a doorstop.
That’s always been my problem. It didn’t matter when no one gave a shit what I thought, but once you get into middle-management, you have to know how to break some balls. It’s not like you’re going to end up with a crack troop of professionals, where the jungler knows when to gank without being shouted at.
If people don’t think you give a shit, they won’t give a shit, either. That’s just normal human behaviour, you aren’t going to get people to change, not on what you’re paying them. What you can do is change yourself, but not on what they’re fucking paying me. I’d rather take a nap in my office and let the whole business slide.
I took the doll from Damicar and raised its hand. Richina’s arm twitched very slightly, but that was all. “Let’s go back down. I need to hook Richina up to this.”
“Oh, mah god,” said Flossie, fingers twitching with excitement, “it looks just like her. Can you make one of me?”
“No,” I said. “We don’t need one of you.” Flossie would do what she was told without having to wire her up to any voodoo. Richina, however, was going to resist all the way.
“It won’t work,” she said. “I won’t let you touch me.”
“That’s alright, I don’t want to touch you.” Women may get upset when they feel objectified and lusted after by men they have no interest in, but tell them you’re not interested and watch them fizz with outrage. How dare you?
“Laney, if you wouldn’t mind.”
It’s one of the paradoxes of male-female intercourse that no one seems to be able to get around. Feminism? Certainly. And how would you like to pay for that?
The workaround is to let the womenfolk deal with the sensitive women’s problems. I’m all progressive like that. You think I enjoy roughing up girls and making them grovel at my feet? How dare you? I’m just here for the key to the exit.
“What are yo’ going to do to her?” Flossie had picked up on something not being quite kosher. Mind like a steel trap, rusted shut.
“Nothing much. Bit of tinkering. My main goals are to make everyone happy and bring peace to the world,” I said, holding the doll up like it was speaking for me, as we went back down below. “After that, I’m planning on retiring.”
“Yo’ can’t do that,” said Flossie, peering uneasily past me as Laney manhandled (oh, when it’s something unpleasant, then we can keep it gender-biased, huh?) Richina ahead of her. “They won’t let yo’.”
“Who won’t let me?”
“Jenny and Claire.”
There was a lot of stuff I needed to get caught up on. And yet, I was hesitant to get into it. Mostly, I think, because it would mean me telling Flossie and Dudley about what I’d been up to, vis a vis Maurice. I know, just spit it out and get it over with. It’s never that simple, though.
I was hoping getting Richina strung up (figuratively speaking) would at least give me some kind of excuse.
“Yes, I killed Maurice, but look, I can make her dance just be shaking this doll up and down. You try!”
“What about Peter?” I said. “Have you seen him, lately?”
“Peter? No. He’s dead, ain’t he?”
We had all seen Maurice stab Peter, but death was not that easy to come by. Not for him, anyway.
“I don’t think so. He’s still calling the shots, I think.”
Flossie went a bit quiet, walking stiffly, looking squarely ahead as thoughts percolated in her mind.
Once we got back in the captain’s cabin, Laney shoved Richina onto the bed. Biadet rolled over and avoided getting landed on, all without opening her eyes.
“What’s wrong with her?” asked Flossie.
“I poisoned her. Long story.” It was actually quite a short story. I poisoned her, the end.
“But she’ll be alright, won’t she?” Flossie was a natural worrier when it came to sick people. She was the girl who would come over and make you soup even if you weren’t her boyfriend, and not understand why her actual boyfriend would get upset about it.
“I were just being nice.”
“He wants to fuck you.”
“So? Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be nice, does it?”
It is the sort of female thinking that is both completely correct and at the same time more than adequate reason to lock women in a room when you’re not around to watch them.
“She’ll be fine. She doesn’t want me to heal her right now because it might make her useful to the enemy?”
“Who is the enemy?” asked Dudley. There was a distinct impression that the rest of the room would also like some clarification on this point. Including me.
“I’m working on it. In the meantime, we have to get Richina into a more user-friendly condition. Right, Richina?”
She spat at me, which I felt was a bit over the top. It wasn’t like I was some Nazi scientist who was going to perform a horrendous experiment on her. I was more like the laudable Nazi scientist who wanted to help with the American space program. I never did anything weird to mentally disabled Jewish children, noooo, not me. Quick, look over there, they’re firing the booster rockets.
“Look, this isn’t going to hurt, and even if something goes wrong, I can heal you. I’m going to be a lot gentler with you than your lot would be with me. Trust me, I know from experience. Torture is no fun, and unlike the cretins of the world who think suffering gives you the right to some payback, I get no satisfaction from seeing people in pain, even if they’re a massive twat who deserve it. If it came down to it, I would just give them a quick, painless death.”
It was a nice speech, I felt. Reassuring and reasonable. Richina began screaming. Some people…
Laney came up beside me and shoved something into Richina’s mouth. “Next time you try to bolster your victim’s confidence, please give me some warning so I can have the screaming gag ready.”
Was a specific gag for screamers a thing? On closer inspection, this gag appeared to be a bra. I stopped myself saying, “I didn’t think you needed a bra,” to Laney, as she was armed. It did mean she was now hanging free in the up top department. I blamed Flossie.
I’d wasted enough time on trying to be fair and reasonable, time to be myself.
As soon as I left my body, things quieted down. It was much easier to think without the constant chattering noise. I’m talking about the incessant noise of life, animals, wind, creaking timbers, lapping waves. If you thought I was talking about girls, then you are the sexist (aha, one point for the home team, swish, all net, bitch — the gender-free kind).
If I could find a way to just spend all my time here, maybe make friends with some kind of freaky tentacle creatures that lived in this dimension, I think I would do it. My faith in people was starting to falter.
The doll in my hand (my body’s hand) had vines growing out of it. Six of them. They got thinner and thinner until they were thread-like by the time they reached Richina. They were in contact with Richina’s temples, wrists and ankles — all the places women like to put perfume, if they’re prostitutes. The ankles are de riguer in that line of work.
This was going to require some delicate work. I hadn’t tried anything this surgical before, and a mistake could have costly repercussions for Richina. It was hard to concentrate with all the other things on my mind. Now that I had a bit of peace and quiet, all the things I wanted to ask Flossie and Dudley were coming up.
The quicker I sorted out Richina, the sooner I could finally get some answers about what Jenny and Claire were really up to. It was becoming more and more apparent to me that this had been their doing, right back to when we first encountered Joshaya.
There was a bunch of stuff from back then I needed to get clear, and Flossie was there to see it happen. Even if she wasn’t fully clued up, she would know some of it.
Unfortunately for Richina, my preoccupation with my own problems meant her treatment was perhaps not as gentle as promised in the brochure.
I stretched threads and wound them around Richina’s body. I took a splinter off my sword and used it to prod the threads deeper into her skin. It would have taken a long time to get it perfect, but once I settled for less than perfect, my reckless attitude helped speed things along. I tied them to her limbs, wove them in her hair, stuck them in her mouth and up her nose. It was not elegant but it was unpleasantly thorough, which is better if you’re in a hurry.
I wasn’t even paying attention to what I was doing. I believe it was Jackson Pollock who said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, now buy this painting.” My approach to stealing a person’s self-determination followed a similar line — it wasn’t art, but it got interesting results.
By the time I finished, Richina looked a bit like when you take a bunch of rubber bands and put them around your face, only all over her body. It wasn’t pretty, but that’s modern art for you.
I had no idea how long it had taken, but it would have to do. I returned to the world of noise and dirty looks.
Richina was on the bed, gagged. I went to take the gag out, thought better of it, and pointed at her mouth. “Can you ungag her, please?”
Laney looked like she thought it was a bad call, but grabbed and tugged. Richina spluttered and choked, and glared at me. The welcome I deserved.
“Listen to me,” I said, holding up the doll. “Let’s start with who you are. Be truthful, who are you? I mean, who are you really?”
I felt this would be a nice gentle way to get the ball rolling.
Richina didn’t move. Then her eyes went a bit glowy. She lifted off the bed, still horizontal, then tilted so she was upright. Wings of light unfurled behind her, spreading out on either side until they passed through the walls.
It was kind of beautiful, like an angel. Was that what she was?
Laney screamed, “Kill it!”
Richina opened her mouth to reveal a hideous smile filled with rows of tiny sharp teeth. The smile disappeared as a pale sweaty Biadet brought a pillow smashing into Richina’s face.
Laney grabbed the doll from my hand and threw it on the floor, stamping on it.
While Biadet pummelled the girl on the bed, Laney stamped the doll on the floor.
“What the fuck are you two doing?”
“She’s a fairy,” Laney screamed at me. “We have to kill it before it infects the whole ship.”
Biadet was slamming the pillow on Richina’s head, and not in a fun pyjama party kind of way. “Kill it,” she shouted at me. “Kill it now!” She pushed the pillow onto Richina’s face and tried to hold it there while Richina bucked under her, the wings thrashing about.
Laney jumped on top of Richina’s legs to pin her down. “Do it!”
I thought girls liked fairies, but I guess that was just me being sexist. I took out my sword. It’s only misogyny if they’re human, right?