Author Topic: Crux of Cessation: A Hyperspace Roleplay  (Read 57272 times)

Offline Meliran

Re: Crux of Cessation: A Hyperspace Roleplay
« Reply #585 on: December 15, 2018, 06:31:08 pm »
Spoiler

That work?

Offline Geocorn

Re: Crux of Cessation: A Hyperspace Roleplay
« Reply #586 on: December 15, 2018, 08:45:20 pm »
yep!

Offline Deeox2

Re: Crux of Cessation: A Hyperspace Roleplay
« Reply #587 on: December 15, 2018, 09:06:11 pm »
Yep! V nice. V kyute.

Offline Meliran

Re: Crux of Cessation: A Hyperspace Roleplay
« Reply #588 on: March 15, 2019, 06:19:49 pm »
It took a long time to get this done, but here, finally, is Trine's story. I'll put spaces between stuff later. I've attached a pdf of it for easier formatting/reading too.

Prelude
“The hell is going on here?” Deckhands, with their mops long forgotten and littering the deck, screamed for their Mother Mary or whatever fucking God they worshipped. I would have as well if I wasn’t their captain. But even with the corpse lying in the middle of the boat foaming at the mouth, I had to keep my cool to make a good example.
“Calm down, Laerke, calm down,” I whispered. There could have been a hundred different explanations as to why this man dropped dead. There had to be explanations for the other crew members who had fallen victim to the same plague—the ones I had hidden in the cargo hold. All I had to do was find a cause, bring this ship to Null, and that would be the end of it. The doctors at Null were world-renowned, so whatever had infected us, they could cure. Maybe Trine and I could share a laugh over this one day in the future.
Every time the screams died down for a moment, a soft hum came over the decks. The hell? Why was there another girl on this ship?
She stood over the corpse—stark naked—humming into the wind. She didn’t seem to mind anything going on, keeping her eyes shut and her head ever so slightly raised against the songs of the sea.
“It’s too late, Laerke,” she said. “It’s far too late.”
The door to the cargo hold opened. But what came out wasn’t the worst of my problems. What came out of the sea was so much worse.

Adagio
Why have a funeral for someone who had never died in the first place?
“Laerke Sørensen was a hero beloved by all—her friends, her family, and her crew. She was young when she departed from this world and will remain young in the hands of God forever.”
I grabbed the rosary around my neck. Like the others, I had put on my best dress, done my hair into the best long twin ponytails I could fasten, kept my head low, and given her my best wishes. None of it would change the truth about this funeral… The entire thing was a farce.
Laerke couldn’t have died—she had been too good of a sailor to succumb to a shipwreck. Psychologists may have called this ‘denial,’ but they were all quacks anyway. There had been no distress signal, nor anything out of code. If Laerke really did die, she would have sent out something beforehand. She had to still be in the Pyrantonese islands somewhere, waiting for me.
“Please join me in a moment of silence to honor her memory.”
After a few remembrances from some of her closest friends, the pastor issued a benediction and left us all to go our separate ways. The members of the Danish Royal Navy saluted and split, while our parents went over to tap on her headstone.
A man I never saw before took his position next to me, taking the opportunity to watch over the farce. “Not going to join them, Trine?”
This was not the time to make new friends. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
The man chuckled. “My apologies. Captain Carlsten of the Merchant Marines. Your old kommandør gave me a bit of a heads up about you and this situation.”
That bitch. Even after my six months of leave, he still gave out my personal information to anyone who asked. Why couldn’t he just give me a formal discharge instead of pretending he could ever trust me to operate a vessel again?
“Pleasure to meet you.” Rising to the rank of captain said something about this man’s acumen. But given his potbelly, he was likely one of those captains who spent all his time in his quarters, chowing down and pushing all the work to his mates. His weight aside, his silver hair and scraggly beard put him well into his fifties.
He wasn’t one for formalities. “You still didn’t answer my question, Trine. Are you not going to join your parents to give your sister your final farewell?”
As if he knew. “They believe they’ll never see her again. But I know this is only the beginning.”
His attention fell to the rosary around my neck. “Because you’re going to meet her again in Heaven and they aren’t?”
I couldn’t help but play around with the cross. “While it is true that I am a Christian and they are atheists, it’s nothing of the sort. She’s still alive, trapped somewhere in the Pyrantonese islands. Give me four more months, and I should have enough money saved up to hire a ship and a crew and then… Wait, why am I telling you this?”
He gave yet another chuckle, reminiscent of Julemanden. “Save your money. I have a proposition for you—one which might meet both of our needs.”
My heart nearly stopped on the spot. “What is it?”
“Not here. Your parents need your support right now, even if you don’t believe you’re saying goodbye. Go to them, and then meet me tonight, twenty-two hundred hours sharp, at the Prancing Frog Tavern. I’ll be there for you, waiting at the seat farthest to the left at the bar.”
That night, true to his word, I found him waiting for me right at the appointed time. As soon as I took my seat, he beckoned the barista over. “I’ll have two Pilsners. One for me, and one for the lovely lady beside me.”
I scoffed, “Pilsner? I guess that damn kommandør told you nothing important about me. Barkeep, make that an Akvavit.”
The captain chuckled. “Good. I like a woman who can hold her alcohol.”
When we received our drinks, the captain took tiny sips, while I spared no expense in draining my glass. “So, what is this proposition of yours?”
He wiped some foam from his mouth. “Why don’t we start with the basics? You tell me a bit about yourself, and I’ll tell you a bit about this mission. The more honest you are with me, the more information I’ll give you.”
How basic could I be? “My name is Trine Sørensen, and I am a korporal of the Danish Royal Navy. I’ve been grounded for the past six months, though the missions I was mainly involved in were around the Arctic Ocean dealing with Russian spies and piracy. I enjoy riding my motorbike and am well-trained in target practice—though I prefer a Sjorgren 12 over all others.”
“Interesting.” He scribbled a few notes. “Now, how about the important pieces of information?”
“What important pieces?”
“Your kommandør only gave me the most basic of information as to why you have been grounded for six months. Insubordination is not the most gleaming of marks on your resume, you know. I’d like to hear from your own mouth what this entailed so I can discern whether I’m hiring a mutineer or a free-spirited girl.”
Was this another one of the kommandør’s traps? Did he want me to reflect on my actions even now? Well, if it was a matter of saving my sister or sparing myself some embarrassment, I’d choose the former. “When my sister disappeared in the Pyrantonese islands, I had direct orders to stay in Odense from the kommandør himself. I wasn’t about to accept her disappearance as death, so I attempted to rig my boat on a collision course with hers. The police caught me first, and that one little insubordination lost me two ranks, my boat, and kept me under house arrest for three months.”
“I see.” Captain Carlsten jotted a few more notes down in his notebook. “Is that it?”
Those were all the important facts. “Yes, sir.”
He opened a manila folder, pulling out a map of the world and a diagram of a ship. “Now for my end of the bargain. I received a request for a shipment of fruit from here to the island of Null in the Pacific. You’ve heard of it, I assume.”
“The man-made island utopia free of poverty and conflict?”
“Only if you believe the stories. But even utopias need to eat. We have cargo filled to the brim with fruit. Good enough money for the trip—although the damn government will take most of it in taxes. I happen to be in need of a Second Mate I can hire on the cheap to manage the crew—somebody like a demoted enlisted crewman—while I take care of the navigation. You happen to be in need of a voyage near the Pyrantonese islands. I’ll bring you through your Pyrantonese islands, and if the conditions are right, we may even stop for an impromptu search for survivors of the Kastespyd. But that is only if you can keep the crew away from the cargo hold at all costs.”
What would that matter? One missing piece of fruit wouldn’t be the end of the world. But if it would bring me closer to Laerke, then so be it. “How are you going to deal with the kommandør? I’m supposed to be grounded until the end of my service contract next year.”
He pulled out his wallet. “Kroner speaks louder than words. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I used your salary for a little bit of HR.”
It wasn’t like I’d need the money if I went on this trip. And this was as good of a chance as any that I would get. “You have yourself a deal.”
He held his drink up high. “Then to us. And all the liquor that body of yours could hold. Barkeep, seconds for the both of us!”
We wound up drinking close to midnight, chatting more about motorcycles and boats than anything else.
The music still pounded out of the bar when I left, but it was nothing but noise compared to the sweet hum of my bike’s engine. It had been fifteen years since I first heard it, but it never lost its allure.
Driving through the streets in my half-drunken state was more of a challenge than I had expected. Was it a right or a left here? Why were the lanes blending together? To make matters worse, once I pulled off the highway, something began to hum.
“Damn it!” Making repairs to my bike was half the fun of owning one, but the extra kroner out of my pockets made everything that much worse. Not wanting to risk it conking out on me, I pulled over, turned off the bike, and began my inspection.
I must have been drunker than I thought. Even with my bike off, the humming continued. It didn’t sound like a grinding kind of a hum either, but rather a sweet melody from a young female voice.
Curious, I grabbed my keys out of the ignition and followed the sound. It seemed to come from down the alleyway, although at the same time, it seemed like chasing a rainbow. No matter how far I followed the sound, it never got any closer or farther from me. Was this some sort of drunken illusion?
I would have kept going if not for a boy on his porch I’d never expected to see. “Malthe?”
My sister’s boyfriend pressed his key into a rather dingy looking house. His hand dropped when he saw me.
“Trine? What are you doing here?”
“I’d like to ask you the same thing.” My heart raced as we chatted—having gone too many months without him.
His key clicked, and he pushed open the door. “I happen to live here. Surprised you never knew that.”
It seemed strange. He had always presented himself so well-groomed, but this had to be the shittiest part of the outskirts to live in. “Well, it appears we both learned something new. How’ve you been? I can’t believe it’s been three months.” My body could, though.
“How about you come in and we chat? I have some spare mead.”
More alcohol… just what I needed. “Is the house warm?”
Malthe winked at me. “Only if you want it to be.”
My passions got the best of me and before I managed to take two steps into his house, our hands were all over each other, and our lips locked full French.
Malthe laid down the electric blanket, implying the next step. “Are you sure you want to go through with this? I mean… today was Laerke’s funeral.”
“You think I don’t know that? I was there, you idiot.” My clothes slipped off my body like melted butter on a hot radiator. “But we don’t need to pay attention to the false rumors. She’s still alive, I know she is. Besides, to you, I’ve always been Laerke, not Trine.”
He smirked. “Your hair’s a little too long for that.”
I pulled my long twintails out of the way. “Oh, just shut up and fuck me.”
And he did. It had been far too long since I felt him inside of me. Even better, his electric blanket had a lot more power to it than the one at home, although it didn’t compare to the time he tied me up to a radiator. I should have felt guilty about it—after all, he was technically cheating on Laerke with her sister—but it felt too good to care.
After a good “wrestle,” we laid next to each other, catching our breath. “Trine, just out of curiosity—”
“I’m Laerke.”
He sighed. “Fine, Laerke… Why do you insist on being so hot every time we do it?”
He never thought to ask that before? “My friend taught me to masturbate in a sauna. I guess a girl wants to recreate her first memories of pleasure over anything else.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
We laid there for at least an hour before putting our clothes back on. “Thanks for tonight, Malthe. I’ll see you in three months.”
“House arrest again?”
I slapped him, just like he liked it. “Don’t bring that up again! No, I’ve got a new mission. Communication’s going to be hard on the ship, but I should be able to fly back once it’s over.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
The mission began early in the morning two weeks later. After putting on my Danish Royal Navy uniform for the first time in ages, I took to the docks, ready to command. I was met with a mass of sailors scrambling like flies to grab last-minute items for the trip. Usually, this would be standard procedure, but something about them made me take note.
 “Tell me,” I asked the captain as he leaned against a light post, coffee in hand, “why are they all Filipino?”
He lowered his cup. “Because they were willing to take less money.”
“You remember what happened with the Danbjørn last year. You can’t cut corners to hire inexperienced sailors.”
“Says the enlisted sailor acting as a Second Mate. This isn’t the Danish Royal Navy, sister. This is the Merchant Marines, and we have to factor in how much the crew actually costs. Besides, they know the Pacific a lot better than your typical Dane does.”
I bit my tongue. “Filipinos are plain incompetent.”
To that, he threw some hot coffee on my shirt. God, that burned! Unable to bear the shock of the liquid, I collapsed to my knees. “I can say the same about racist women who haven’t been on a ship in six months. So how about you keep your fucking racism to yourself instead of creating a mutiny before we even get started? They’re not too happy about having a woman onboard, either.”
Damn it! I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sure there were plenty of competent Filipinos, but these are the cheap nobodies!
My racism may have been misplaced, but he wasn’t lying about the whole sexism issue I’d face. After setting sail, every crew member avoided me, save the rare moments when I’d have an order to give them. Loneliness set in like a plague as the weeks passed, and most of the time I found myself shut in my Second Mate’s cabin, studying yet another book on advanced navigation.
It was one of these times when a knock came on my door. “Prau Sørensen!” The accented voice grated in my head. Why did he keep calling me Prau? It wasn’t even close to Trine.
The knock came again. “Prau Sørensen! Up are you?”
“Christ, just a minute!” I threw on my standard-issued coat, hoping it’d cover a bit more of my body than this damn Merchant Marine uniform. Who the hell designed a uniform to have a skirt—which barely covered my panties—and a neckline so low that I had to be careful how I moved so as to not accidentally flash somebody? Men, that’s who.
“Prau Sørensen!” He was relentless. “Captain want see you!”
“I’m coming, already! Give me a moment!” I didn’t care how much an emergency he thought this was. ‘Emergencies’ on a merchant ship weren’t the same as emergencies on a military ship.
The incessant knocking made my knife on the table seem ever more tempting. I counted to five, whispering to myself, “You’re only on this one trip at sea. You’ll be back at the Frømandskorpset Task Force headquarters in your nice comfy chair soon. You’ll be peddling paperwork and taking orders with a smile.”
“Prau Sørensen!”
There were many ways to irritate me and rushing me was near the top of the list.
Throwing the door open, I came upon the same short, middle-aged Filipino man who came every day. He continued to knock, despite the door’s disappearance, and as a result, his fist thumped right against my breast.
A deep crimson colored his olive skin. “So sorry, Prau!”
Had it been any other sailor, I might have been mad. But I couldn’t get mad at Manni—he really did mean no harm. “Mistakes happen. But why the hell do you keep calling me Prau? It’s Trine.”
“So sorry, Prau!”
He might have a good heart, but he was a terrible listener. “Now, what was this about the captain?” I found my eyes wandering to his crotch—even though he was an old, balding Filipino. Had it really been that long since I screwed around with Malthe that I’d want freaking Manni? The thought of a cup of coffee pushed all the lust away.
“Captain look for you, Prau. Say very nice thing about Prau, yes. He say you bring good luck to crew. Crew no complain about pretty Dane on board.”
Even a kid could’ve lied better. I hadn’t gone a day without hearing some crap when they thought I wasn’t listening like “Women sink ships!” or “Get that albatross off!” Sailing through the Dragon’s Triangle must have doubled their paranoia.
No matter how ridiculous, I had to work through their superstitions. I made sure to lock my door at all times, eat either in my quarters or with the captain, and take my showers after they went to sleep.
We turned a corner into one of the Lyndwyrm’s births. “You put in good word for me, right?” Manni asked.
“Sure.” Manni was probably the best crew member we had. From what I could see, he always did his job with a smile on his face—though that smile was stained yellow from years of tobacco use. To add to that, his rushed comb-over really did not do much to hide his thinning scalp. Even despite his ugliness, he spoke the best English of the crew, so I had appointed him as my interpreter and assistant.
I knocked on the captain’s door, which had a large octopus carved on it. “It’s Trine. You summoned me?”
“Come in.”

Refrain
The captain sat at the end of a long table, fighting to cut off a piece of steak from the bone. My dinner had been set up in the chair next to his.
“Captain.” I made a show of respect to his station, but before I could lift my arm, he proffered a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Thanks for fetching her for me, Manni. You can return to your duties.”
Once we confirmed Manni had left, the captain’s expression turned stern. “Fifteen minutes for a five-minute trip. Have you forgotten your basic training already, Trine?”
“My apologies,” I lied, taking a bite from my steak. Delmonico? If nothing else, the Merchant Marines ate well. Then again, I’d expect nothing else from this fat captain.
As if he followed my eyes, he pulled out a sea chart to divert my attention. “The reason why I summoned you is that I need your decision on the best route to take.”
Routes were not my concern. “You’re the captain of this ship. You make these decisions, and the crew will follow it. Routes are your forte.”
“But you’re an oversergent of Freyja Fjer.”
That brought back painful memories. “I was. Now I’m just a paper-pushing staff korporal. I deal with personnel management and operations. And even when I went on trips, the mates did the route planning.”
I portioned off my steak into the part I’d eat and the part I’d save. These damn cooks couldn’t get it in their tiny brains that I didn’t want to eat this much. I couldn’t blame them, though. Captain Carlsten insisted that I got a huge meal every single night while the crew got scraps. I wasn’t going to let years of dieting—thanks to all the calories I drank in alcohol—go to waste over some stupid captain.
He pointed on the chart. “I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t pertain to you directly. We are here, right now.” He put one of his peas on the map. At least the map was laminated since he was going to use food as props. “Over here is Null. We’re something like two days out as the crow flies.”
“The crow always flies on the sea.”
He put a scoop of mashed potatoes onto the map. “Unless, of course, there’s a storm.”
“What storm?”
He moved the pea around on the map. “The Navy has radioed me about a massive cloudburst up ahead between us and the Dragon Triangle. The Lyndwyrm can navigate through it fine, but they’re more than a little skeptical about it, wanting us to navigate around the Pyrantonese islands altogether, adding another day to our route. It’s a much safer route, and the only way to ensure safe delivery of the cargo.”
They had a good reason to avoid those waters. Even without a looming storm, those shallows had hundreds of rocks and coral reefs that were just waiting to bite your hull and pull you under. Add a storm into the mix, and it would be suicide to try to navigate them.
At least, suicide for any navigator other than Captain Carlsten. After multiple Arctic expeditions, he had earned much acclaim for his skill in maneuvering tight situations. But that wasn’t his only claim to fame.
He rolled his pea around the small landmasses on the border of the Triangle, showing me the awfully long detour.
I slammed my hand on a table. “We had a deal! I kept the Filipinos out of the cargo hold, now you need to keep your end of the bargain!”
“Indeed, we do. But this is an order directly from the Royal Danish Navy. You do remember what happened the last time you defied one of their orders, right?”
 “How about we stop playing this little game of cat and mouse?” I asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“Come off it. You’re Captain Carlsten—famed for seafaring. You’re also quite well-known for your ability to smuggle.” I smirked. “Nobody would pay your rates just for a shipment of fruit, would they?”
“You’re smarter than you look.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He folded his hands. “But that is as much as you’re going to get to know. The details of this bit of extra cargo are of no concern of yours.”
“I’m guarding them, so I have a right to know.”
“So you would think, Trine. But do you remember that first night in the bar when I asked you to tell me your history in exchange for mine?”
“Yeah? What of it?”
He leaned in toward me. “You gave me the surface level information, so I gave you the surface level back. If you want to know the true depths of this ship, then let me know the true depths of Trine. Let me know you as a person so I can decide just how much to trust you.”
So that’s what it came down to. I supposed after all these months out at sea, I could trust him a bit more as a person instead of a hand of the kommandør. “I was kidnapped when I was twelve years old.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? That’s a bit farther back than I was imagining.”
“Don’t stop me. It’s hard to start again.” Reliving any painful memory shouldn’t happen more than once. “Anyway, they were part of some sort of Arabian crime ring, specialized in the sale of children for sex. They would inject us with drugs to keep us calm—heroin, as I would later learn—and didn’t feed us much to keep us ‘pretty.’ As you can imagine, the month I spent in their captivity was a harrowing experience.”
Any air of joy had escaped the room. “Go on,” the captain said.
My hands traced over my thigh where the rose tattoo remained after all these years. “This came from the request of my ‘owner.’ He had a thing for girls with tattoos, so they forced this upon me before the sale was final. I probably would still be living with that piece of shit if not for my luck.”
“What happened?”
“He had a collection of antique guns and forgot to lock the room one of the first nights I was his. So, when the night came for him to take my virginity, I took his life with his Sjorgren 12 instead.”
The captain heaved a sigh. “It’s a sad story, but it doesn’t explain anything to me about your past behavior.”
“I’m getting there, I’m getting there.” My fingers toyed around with the rosary around my neck. After a few moments, I let it drop and refocused my thoughts. “My family moved to Odense soon after, and I had to go through the entire withdrawal phase of those awful drugs. Nothing could have been as terrible as those shakes. Only two things kept me going—my religion and my sister. Religion was a bit tenuous since I had only converted during my captivity, but my sister was always there for me, skipping school and appointments just so she could stay in bed with me and hold me close.”
 It took me a few moments before I could continue. “Things returned to normal soon after, although I picked up building and maintaining a bike as a way of putting the cravings and memories aside. Even with all that, I could never stop following my sister, doing all I could to stay by her side and in her footsteps. That’s why I joined the Navy in the end. And when she left, I had no choice but to follow her.”
Silence fell between us for a few moments. “Is that it?” the captain asked.
“Yes, sir.”
“Then you’re still not getting any information. You’re still hiding too much from me.”
Damn it. Do I really have to tell him more? “Fine,” I conceded, “I’ll tell you about my house arrest.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
I bit my lip. “Well, a few days into my house arrest, my sister’s boyfriend, Malthe, came to pick up some of his stuff from my sister’s room. Something came over me, and the next thing I knew, I was fucking him, role playing as Laerke. Soon after, alcohol became involved and before long, the police found us. That led to the rest of my containment.”
His finger made a check mark in the air as he had been wont to do over this trip. “That explains everything I wanted.”
“Are you really that much of a pervert?”
He let out a laugh. “No. It just confirms everything you did was out of misplaced love, not malice. I have no problem telling you my secrets, either.” He tapped his foot on the ground. “If you need to know about the true cargo on this ship… we’re bringing weapons to Null.”
“Weapons? But those aren’t even legal there. Nobody could use them.”
“I do what I’m paid to do. Some American gave me the mission and told me to arrive by Friday. What happens after is none of my concern. That’s why I contacted you to see if we should risk the Pyrantonese to make it on time or delay the shipment by a day for safety reasons.”
Why would he care about my opinion? But he asked for it, so I’ll give it. “It’d really sully your reputation if we were late. Ignore the Navy and go through the islands.”
The captain chuckled. “Like you give half a damn about my reputation.”
“You’re right. Besides, if we pass through the Pyrantonese, we’ll reach Null by Friday. They’re busier on Fridays at the port, so there’d be a good chance they’d let us pass on the Lyndwyrm’s reputation alone. No risk having the arms discovered.”
Captain Carlsten squirmed. “You know I don’t like you mentioning this ship’s reputation. Do you have any idea how much money I stand to lose if this little scheme falls through? Forget the Danish Royal Navy hiring me again. NATO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and probably even normal merchants would never trust me to deliver anything anywhere again.”
I placed my hand on his shoulder. He really did have muscles beneath his flab. “Relax. I’ve got it covered. Worse comes to worst, I’ll flash my badge to the customs officials and cite Article 98 of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea—the requirement to aid the distressed—as a survivor of the Kastespyd. In that manner, even being a measly korporal does have its perks, you know.”
“But you’re not a survivor of the Kastespyd.”
I flicked my long blond locks. “I look close enough to Laerke that I could be.” Besides the hair length, we might as well be twins—even though she was two years older.
He bit his lip. “Even so, there’s something a lot worse than a couple of weapons down there.”
“What could be worse?”
He hushed his voice. “I was down there earlier surveying the cargo and found a huge cache of explosives.”
“Explosives?!” I jumped up so fast, my knee hit the low quarters of the table. It took all my effort to not cry out. Even eight years after my last surgery, and fifteen years since injuring it when I tried to escape my kidnappers, small agitations still hurt. I couldn’t let the captain see my pain and think of me as a weakling.
“Are they morons? It’s one thing to have us smuggle weapons into Null for some sort of operation, but do they expect to blow the whole thing up as well?”
Captain Carlsten rolled his pea around Null on the map. “They’re not for Null, exactly.”
“There’s a second leg to this trip? Where are they going?”
“Nowhere, hopefully. Those explosives weren’t meant for delivery… they’re meant for us.”
I slammed my fist against the table. “What the bloody hell are you on about?”
He cowered upon seeing my raging figure. If nothing else, this imposing figure of mine had helped me raise rapidly through the ranks before my “incident.”
“Well, the usual American contact loaded the ship in Frederikshavn. Everything was routine. Only after the cargo was in place and the contact left did I find this extra note on the copy of the shipping registry.” He passed me a document with the words ‘Get the weapons to port by Friday or the ship will detonate’ written in shaky red ink.
“Are you sure it’s not a ruse?”
“We have no way to confirm if there’s a remote detonation device within the pallets of the cargo.”
This captain, I swear… “Damn it! Then our hand has already been played.”
The captain stabbed at his steak, which had become too cold to eat. “I had somebody look into that Yank in Frederikshavn who gave us the weapons job. All I found out was he worked for a man or organization named Miller, or possibly Mueller. But his ideas of cutting costs and doubling revenue must’ve been too appealing to the Ministry. If only they realized he meant cutting naval activities in order to turn the Navy into a band of smugglers. They have all the blackmail they need on us now, which leads to the question, why the explosives? It seems redundant. But that’s why I asked your opinion on this. Which do you think is more dangerous—the explosives or the Pyrantonese?”
He already knew my answer.
Why did these things always happen to me? I knew someone had it out for me considering what happened in my childhood, but this was ridiculous.
We finished our meal mostly in silence while I studied the letter and the map. “Thanks for the meal.” I boxed up my remaining food. At least the kitchen staff knew to provide me with a box.
“Not hungry?”
I shut the lid. “I keep telling the staff to make half portions. I’ll see you at dinner tomorrow. I’ll have breakfast in my quarters. Make sure they send up extra coffee.”
The sea breeze kicked up as soon as I left his chambers, fluttering my blond twintails in the wind. Was there something else in that breeze? The soft whistle… No, it was more like a hum that bounced off the wooden deck to assault my mind. It had to be a hum—it carried too much of a tune to it. But only a girl could hum like that, and I was supposed to be the only girl on this ship.
Lost in my thoughts, I bumped into the firm body of a sailor. Usually, I would have yelled at him to watch where he was going, but this really was my fault. “My apologies.”
“None taken, my butterfly.”
My heart fluttered at the sound of the sonorous Danish voice. Did they actually hire a Dane for this trip as a sailor? I lifted my head to get a better look at his face.
I nearly fell over. “Malthe? The fuck are you doing here?”
He chuckled. “It really took you this long to notice I was on the same ship as you?”
Was I really that unobservant? We’d been on the sea for months, and even if Malthe stayed below deck all the time, I should have bumped into him at least once. Was he even on the roll?
That voice hummed again.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked.
He leaned on his mop. “Because it’s pretty cold on the deck, and you like it warm.”
I slapped him. “Oh, shut up. You’re excused from your duties for now. Come with me.”
He dropped his mop, and I led him down to my chambers. We didn’t even make it to my bed before we were tearing off each other’s clothes, only pausing long enough for me to adjust the space heater’s temperature.
“Are you sure you’re all right doing it here? We’re pretty close to Laerke’s last known coordinate.”
“Do you want to do it or not? Every time we go at it, you mention her.”
He smirked. “It makes me feel not as guilty about it.”
Guilty? Sure, doing your dead girlfriend’s sister would be pretty taboo, but normally people try to forget those things. Did he have a kink for guilt?
“Whatever. Just do it.”
He unfastened his belt. “As you command, Laerke.” I wouldn’t have been surprised if every sailor on board heard what we did, but I didn’t care.
As the boat rocked, so did my stomach, and Malthe rocking me did nothing to improve matters.
“Malthe, I think you better go.”
He lay next to me with an arm around my shoulders. “Why? Nobody’ll interrupt us here.”
“No, it’s not that. Just go.” My stomach growled.
“Well, fine. I’ll be back for more tomorrow night. And if you say no, I’ll bring some rope!”
He knew exactly what I wanted. “Get the hell out of here!”
When another wave rocked the boat, my stomach couldn’t handle it anymore. Like a flash, I ran down to the railing and hurled all the delicious steak into the briny depths below.
Perhaps I didn’t need to worry about my weight after all. Hardly a day had passed on this trip without at least one trip to the railing. This shouldn’t happen to a veteran sailor.
It was like that day when I was still a greenhorn, out on my first morning at sea.
Laerke had rubbed my back while I leaned over the rail, much like I was doing now. “Don’t worry, it’s just a phase. All greenhorns go through it. It’s just like swimming.”
The heaving had stopped, allowing me to speak. “I’m not a kid anymore. I know I failed the swimming qualification test, but no need to rub salt in the wound. I know I’m not tough like you.”
Laerke slapped my back, causing me to heave again. “Swimming and nausea aren’t a measure of toughness. They only measure how ready you are.”
“Did you get seasick the first time?”
She shook her head, her short hair brushing against her shoulders. Unlike me, she had enough sense to cut her hair when she entered the Navy. “But I was weak in other areas.”
“For example?”
She looked around. “Well, I couldn’t hoist the mizzenmast of the training ketch alone.”
I may be new enough to the Navy to not know what a ketch was, but knowing Laerke, it was probably a feat even a seasoned sailor couldn’t do. If my one week’s worth of naval experience could be summed up in a sentence, it was, “Everything needs cleaning and absolutely everything was heavy.”
I steadied myself as best I could on the rocking ship. “Listen, you don’t need to comfort me or anything. I’m just another sailor here.”
She kissed my forehead softly. “You’re not just another sailor, you’re my sister. Nothing will change that.”
Why did I remember that all these years later? My stomach still hurt, but I knew that it was just the aftershock from the bile in my throat. The pain in my chest was something else. Laerke, why couldn’t you be here with me now? Why did you have to go on that ill-fated journey? Where are you? My stomach contracted again, only this time there was nothing but acid for it to shed.
With dusk fast approaching and more than my memories leaving a bad taste in my mouth, I returned to my quarters. It almost made me feel guilty to have my own stateroom when so many of the crew were doubled up in quarters below. Almost, but considering their issues with a woman on board, it was nice to have a little sanctuary.
I slipped off my uniform to freshen up a bit. With my ballistic case as a pillow, I curled up to embrace the warmth of my electric blanket. Even with my stomach churning, I wasn’t going to let it rule me. I couldn’t afford to vomit in here. The rule of the sea is well-known to all sailors—if you make a mess, you clean it up.

Intermezzo
To take my mind off my stomach, I studied the map of the Pyrantonese islands from my personal belongings, intent on the black X marked on one of the islands. “I’m finally coming for you, Laerke.” It had been too long since I last saw her, too long since I first saw this mark of her last known location.
Laerke had to be here somewhere. I had come on a mission, and I wasn’t about to fail. Whether she was waiting for me or only her corpse, I would find her.
It wouldn’t be easy. The Pyrantonese islands were deserted, save for one or two ritualistic tribes. Thinking about it, why would the designers build Null so close to them? There was no other contact for hundreds of kilometers in any direction. There was no way Laerke could’ve survived in them, no matter how resourceful she was.
No, I couldn’t think like that. She had to be alive, living on leftover food from the ship or something of the sort. For now, I needed a distraction. I pulled out a book on intermediate navigation and flipped through its pages on the various angles water strikes a ship. Just like the various positions Malthe would use to strike—
“Forget it,” I grumbled. My steamy night with Malthe had destroyed my concentration, meaning my only other option was to sleep. I gripped my rosary. “Please watch over me tonight. Please let us enter the Pyrantonese islands safely.”
---
A knock woke me up from a sound slumber. 5:05? Five minutes late? Manni never missed bringing my breakfast on time. Perhaps I should treat him and forget to put on a robe. No, with Malthe here, I couldn’t flirt with anyone else. Even if I was breaking a taboo of sleeping with my missing sister’s boyfriend, I couldn’t cheat on him, too. I slipped on a robe and pulled the door open.
“Good morning, Manni.” I was glad I kept my robe on. A different man with a lot more hair flashed a toothless grin and held out my breakfast on a platter.
“Manni sick. Me food you.”
So much for a nice start to the day. Manni always managed to put me in a good mood, but this guy was nothing but a reminder of this crappy trip with the Filipinos. “Thanks.” My plate had four eggs, toast heaped with butter, and three slices of bacon. Could they really not understand that girls don’t need so much?
To make matters worse, storm clouds covered yesterday’s bright blue sky. Whitecaps crashed against the side of the boat, pushed along by the howling wind. That same wind gusted onto the deck and pulled my robe down my body. Of course, the man wasted no time in getting a good look.
And I wasted no time slamming my knee into his crotch. “Learn some respect.” Manni was the only one able to get away with that. At least Manni didn’t curse me for being a woman.
When I sat on my bed to enjoy my meal, my knee flared up in pain. “Seriously?” If only I hadn’t been so stupid all those years ago when I stole my owner’s motorcycle and crashed it instead of waiting for the police, I wouldn’t be dealing with all this pain now. Losing half my cartilage to my various surgeries had a cost.
After finishing half my meal, I boxed the leftovers up and placed it inside the refrigerator with the rest. It all seemed so pointless, since they wouldn’t last more than a few days after a shipwreck, should one happen. But I couldn’t bear to throw it overboard.
I threw on my clothes and went to the bow of the ship. Through the mist and darkness from the clouds above, I could barely make out the atoll surrounding us.
“The Pyrantonese islands.” They had been naught but a dream for these past few months, yet now I was finally inside them.
“Prau, we been in them for few hours already.” Manni stumbled up the stairs.
“What happened to your supposed sickness?” Indeed, the islands were behind us as well. What if Laerke had been on one of the southern islands? We may have sailed past her!
No, she wouldn’t. The Kastespyd had communicated its last coordinates well inside the islands.
“Sickness?” he asked.
“Weren’t you sick? Some other guy brought my breakfast because of it.”
Manni flashed his yellowing teeth. “Manni recover quick!” But his mood turned somber. “But Prau been sad since nearing islands. Why?”
As much as I liked him, we weren’t close enough to share our secrets. “Don’t worry about it. It’s private.”
Manni, unlike the other useless crewmen on the ship, had a bit of sensitivity to my issues. Knowing to shut up, he leaned on the railing to watch the white caps with me.
Now that I’m here in the Pyrantonese islands, what do I do? I could hardly ask the captain to halt the ship to explore them with our explosive cargo. And I doubted that I’d see the Kastespyd or Laerke waving from some random island.
I was up the river without a paddle. If I truly wanted to find her, I’d have left the Navy and bought my own ship. Though visas into Null were pretty hard to get with how selective they were.
“Manni, why did you fake being sick?”
He gripped the rail. “Manni thought Miss Prau might want morning without woken by me after yesterday assault.”
It took me a moment to piece together his words. “Oh, that? Listen, Manni, I know it wasn’t intentional. Don’t worry about it, all right? I like seeing your smile in the morning.”
Time seemed to stop. It was as if a dark hand had grabbed at my heart, twisting it with despair and regret. My thoughts blurred, replaced by danger and anguish. Something was wrong below the decks.
“Manni, I’m sorry, but I need to go.”
“What for?”
I didn’t want to come across insane, so I made up a reason. “I need to check out the cargo.”
The cargo hold was a vast expanse of various fruity aromas. There were thousands of boxes labelled with the names of various types of fruits. We had oranges, bananas, and mangoes—whatever Null might want. And then there were the boxes of “Oränges.” Peering inside them confirmed what the captain had said—any box with those marks over the “a” meant they held weapons. And damn, did they ever have weapons. One box of these could have armed an entire company.
A soft voice hummed from somewhere in the cargo hold. I had heard this voice twice before, and both led to the same result.
“Is somebody down here? Malthe, is that you?” If it was, I’d kill him. Nobody should be down here but the captain or me. But this voice belonged to a young girl. Did he have a secret love for falsetto?
“Malthe?” I placed a hand on one of the crates of cargo and peered around the corner.
The humming continued, this time with words. “Trine is Trine, Laerke is Laerke.”
A naked girl, no older than twelve, sat on a cargo crate near a window, swinging her legs idly. She had tied her black hair into two short ponytails, and her eyes were black to match.
My dread only grew. “Who… who are you? Are you a stowaway? How do you know my sister’s name, and mine, for that matter?”
She leapt off the crate and sauntered toward me. “Trine is Trine, Laerke is Laerke.”
My heart crawled up my throat. “Stop it! Who are you?!”
“Trine is Trine. Laerke is Laerke.”
“Help!” Something slithered up my back. When I turned to get a better look, a hanging wooden beam smashed against my head. It did nothing to stop the little girl’s saunter as I fell to the ground.
“Trine is Trine, Laerke is Laerke.” A grin spread across her face. “And it is too late for both of them.”
Darkness overtook me.

Poco a Poco
I awoke to the sound of rain pounding against the deck above. The crates of apples and oranges confirmed I was still in the cargo hold, but I couldn’t find any sign of the girl from before.
My eyes caught hold of a collapsed crate of cargo where a butterfly flew out. No label either. Were these oranges or oränges? Mix-ups were killer on smuggling operations. A weapons dealer receiving a crate of oranges wouldn’t be too bad, but Null receiving weapons instead of oranges would likely lead to our arrests.
My boots crunched on something. Broken glass? Why would anyone have glass down here?
The crate must have broken from one of the waves that crashed against the hull. Pushing apart the woodwork should at least show if I could chalk it up to wrecked baggage or something I’d need to hide and—
There were no oranges. There were no weapons. Instead, there was a corpse.
“Oh my God!” Foam covered his mouth, and his eyes stared blankly into space. Whatever stomach acid I had left hurled itself up to my throat and splattered all over the floor.
I wanted to believe his death came from the cargo collapsing on top of him. That would explain the sweat on his body from a long struggle to escape his prison. But that wouldn’t explain the foam.
Scarier still, his hand reached toward another pile near the stern. Bombs. The pile of bombs rumored to end us lay stacked up, with a timer ticking toward our end. Twelve hours to go.
The captain had to know about both of these discoveries. He’d be able to determine if the sailor died from an accident or murder. More importantly, he’d find somebody to defuse the bomb.
Chatter erupted on the deck over the beating rain. Something was going on.
I rushed up the stairs to find everyone huddled around the middle of the boat. In the middle lay a sailor foaming out the mouth—just like the man in the cargo hold.
“Harai!” Manni hunched over the man and checked for a pulse. From his unmoving eyes and clammy skin, he obviously was no longer for this world. Though he seemed oddly familiar.
One sailor whispered to another, “Hey, he bring girl breakfast.”
“He cursed! We tell him he cursed!” whispered another.
Eyes turned from the dead man to me.
A sailor stepped toward me. “He cursed. We all cursed! Bringing girl on board bad! Throw overboard!” The sailors followed his lead, save for Manni.
I pulled out my pistol, lest I need it. “Touching me is mutiny. Do you really want to go up against a court martial for that?”
They may speak a big game, but threats destroy them. “Watch you back, curse lady.” It was the furthest any of them could go without risking a court martial.
Screw them all. Only one of these Filipinos mattered to me—the only one not to reject me. My hand found its proper place on Manni’s shoulder for a bit of comfort. “We’ll give him a proper burial at sea, I promise.” I didn’t know if this was one of his friends or just a co-worker, but I could at least promise him that much.
He swatted my hand away with such force that I yelped. “You no touch me, witch lady!”
What? I thought I had become at least his friend. But to call me a witch… Did he really hate me? How could I have been so fooled? All those smiles, broken English compliments, and jokes… and now this?
Unable to know how to respond, I returned to my cabin until the captain came to get me himself for our dinner together. The two of us sat around the table with my food resting just as it had been prepared. The captain had no such lack of appetite, even after I told him of my discoveries below the decks.
“Poison,” he said, biting into a chicken leg. “At least, that was what Vergel concluded.” If I could recall correctly, Vergel was the ship’s medic, although he spent most of his time in the kitchen. “Their symptoms could have only been caused by Sun’s Bane, a poison which makes the body’s defenses turn on itself. Unfortunately, this poison does such a good job, it destroys all evidence of the perpetrator on the body as well.”
I wasn’t familiar with that particular name. “Could it have been a misplaced cleaning supply?”
“Sun’s Bane has no other use than to kill. This was no mistake.”
I divided my chicken thigh into respective parts, the most I could do besides eating it. “Why was something like this on our ship?”
“It wasn’t.”
“Well, obviously it was, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”
He held his hand up. “Stop thinking with your heart and think with your brain for once. If it wasn’t part of our cargo, where could it come from?”
We hadn’t docked anywhere, and the captain was right—we knew every supply on this ship from top to bottom. While there was a chance the cargo could have hidden such a thing, I would have noticed somebody going down there. “Could it be made?”
“Exactly. It’s a difficult recipe, and only a few chemists can produce it. But our First Mate, Hans, happens to be a rather skilled chemist.”
I had only seen Hans once or twice before, but he did seem like a shady fellow. “Why would he kill a crew member?”
“Don’t assume the worst in people. We don’t know that he personally killed them. He may have made the poison for some other reason, and it got stolen. But if you’re going to confront him, don’t go unarmed.”
I patted my holster. “Do you think I’m some dumb bimbo?” But as soon as I did so, my thoughts turned to the cargo again. “And what about the bombs?”
“They’re ticking. Nobody here can disarm them, so we’re just going to have to get to Null before the timer hits zero.”
“We’re not going to try?”
He stabbed his chicken. “If you know how, then be my guest. But those things are usually designed to go off the instant somebody messes with them. So if you don’t want to die, you’d best leave me to navigate while you worry about the dead crew members and suppressing a potential mutiny.”
Any suppression of a mutiny would require arms, and the pistol in my holster had no bullets in it. “Thanks for the meal,” I said, pushing my untouched dinner aside before returning to my room.
   “Thirty, fourteen, seven….” Back in my room, I fumbled through the combination on my locker until it gave its satisfied click. It kept most of my important items such as my purse and the keys to my bike. The most important item lay in the back—my Sjorgren 12. Despite its heavy use over the past fifteen years since I received it from that horrible man, it looked no worse for the wear. My years of practice paid off in the end as I had become one of the most renowned shooters in the Navy. In fact, I received my first promotion on the merits of my shooting test alone.
In any case, it would have to stay in my locker. In such close confines as the Second Mate’s cabin, I’d need a handgun if worse comes to worst, not a clunky rifle.
Outside, the rain had only gotten worse. The decks were a lake, and the stairs a waterfall. I gripped the slippery railing on my way up the stairs. My weakened knee could ill afford another slip and fall.
Hans was fast asleep in his cot when I went in. He had the easiest job on the ship, with me doing all the planning, and the crew he was supposed to direct being mostly autonomous. But he was horribly difficult to speak to—only understanding his native Swedish tongue.
“Vakna upp dig bit av skit.” Hopefully I said that right.
He didn’t move. I supposed he was either a heavy sleeper or mad that I swore at him.
“Hans, vakna upp!” I kept my hand on my pistol in case he’d try anything. But again, he didn’t move.
Forget Swedish. “If you won’t get up, I’ll make you!” With a jerk, I grabbed his shoulder and ripped him off the bed.
His body was rigid and cold—his eyes blank, his mouth foaming.
He killed himself with his own drug? No, the captain told me not to draw those conclusions. Could someone else really be responsible for this?
There were no empty vials in his room, and all ingredients were placed neatly in their spots in the cupboard. If I were to make my own death wine, I doubt I’d care enough to put everything away.
The only thing which seemed out of place was a single slip of paper on his desk. With all caution, I peeled apart the seal and found only three words. She is coming. Underneath the words was a small picture of a butterfly. She? Who was she? Was he calling the storm a female? Or maybe…
There was that naked girl with black pigtails below the deck. “She is coming.” Who was she? Why was she on the ship? Where did she go?
I had to inform the captain. It had slipped my mind in our discussion initially, but it could be the key to all of this.
First, though, I had to sneak out of here without anybody seeing me. They already thought I was a curse on the ship, and all implications were that I was at fault here. I closed the door with hardly a click to tiptoe across the deck.
When I gripped the captain’s door handle, somebody screamed. Manni stood at Hans’s doorway, shaking. Damn it.
The crewmen ran to see what was the matter, but Manni had already made his conclusion. The point of his finger was enough to redirect the attention. “She curse us all!”
Whatever composure I had left shattered. Damn that man! Damn this ship, and damn these fucking untrained sailors! “Shut up already! Just because I don’t have a dick doesn’t mean I’m bringing ghosts and demons on the ship!”
Manni flicked out a switchblade. “She kill! She kill Harai! We kill her!”
He wasn’t the only one with his knife out. The sailors took slow wet steps toward me, their knives homing in for the kill. A metallic flicker narrowly missed my head, but from the sharp pain in my shoulder, I knew it hit somewhere.
Holding my newly bleeding tricep, I gritted my teeth. I wasn’t quick to forgive or forget. I sought out the face of the man without a knife to engrave his visage in my mind. Null would be even less forgiving than me when I turned him in.
A gunshot rang out in the night. “Enough!” the captain roared. He really could be imposing when he wanted to be. “Anybody not back at their posts in the next ten seconds will be guilty of mutiny!” The crew knew better than to question him. Once they had returned to sweeping the deck, he placed a rough hand on my injured shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Though he may be powerful, he should know better than to touch a wounded sailor where it hurt the most. “It didn’t cut too deep. But that’s not important. Hans is dead.”
“It came to shots?”
“No, he was dead when I found him.”
The captain dropped his hand. “What do you mean?”
“Same poison. I don’t know if he took it himself or what have you, but he died.”
The captain bit his lip. “Show me.”
Hans’s corpse looked a lot worse than when I first saw it. A lot of sweat was rolling down his body, and his skin had lost some definition, becoming much smoother.
The captain bowed his head for a moment of prayer. “Cover him and bring him to the engine room. Let’s hope he’s the last corpse we have to keep there.”
“If he’s gone, there won’t be more, right?”
“We can only hope. I’ll leave the cleanup and investigation to you. I have the Pyrantonese to navigate.”
The captain left me to cover him with a blanket. His skin really was gooey.
I thought to sweep the dust on the ground, too. My boot markings were fresh in the dust, and if somebody wanted to frame me, they’d have a good case.
But there were another pair of footprints in here. They were tiny as if they belonged to a child—a child with no shoes.
“She is coming.”
I dragged Hans down to the engine room, where two other covered corpses lay. At least, where I thought they lay. What was under them didn’t seem human at all. I could no longer make out their heads, arms, or legs. Did bodies really decompose this quickly?
“Rest in peace.” Hans fell with a thud next to the other two. Something else echoed as well.
“Is someone there?”
A soft voice hummed just outside the room.
That made me race outside. “Who are you? What are you doing to my crew members?”
The little girl wasn’t there. The humming didn’t stop, but it no longer seemed to be coming from the ship.
I leaned over the rail to get as close to the humming as I could. But there was nothing overboard but the black waves crashing against the hull.
“I’m going insane.” Another surge of pain shot through my arm. “And I guess I better treat this soon.”
---
My medicine cabinet was a complete mess with all the substances I’d never use. It took me quite a while to find the witch hazel, which was nestled next to a book of medicinal formulas.
“Ah, shit!”
I had forgotten the sting of witch hazel on a fresh wound. Even if it wasn’t a deep cut, it still was enough to bother me. The man who hurt me would pay. He’d be court marshalled as soon as we landed in Null, then locked up for life!
Somebody knocked on my door.
“Go away! You all hate me anyways!”
“You’re not alone.” That sexy sonorous voice could only belong to Malthe.
Despite all that had happened, I couldn’t say no to him. I pulled open my door, and he stood there with a length of rope and a smirk.
“Not tonight.” I lifted my bandaged shoulder. “When we get to Null, you can tie me up all you want. But if just regular sex is enough, I could use the distraction.” Was that the sound of humming again? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
He grinned. “It doesn’t take much to please me.” He shut the door and before I knew it, he was all over me, penetrating deep within me. His pleasure took away my voice, turning it into screams.
But when I climaxed, I realized the screams weren’t all my own. Sailors screamed from all directions. “Now what?”
Annoyed at the interruption, I threw on the best semblance of a uniform I could in a hurry.
“I’ll be back in a bit,” I said. “Stay here, and don’t put your clothes back on.”
The man who had thrown the knife at me laid on top of the stairs leading down to my door, completely unmoving. He had the same symptoms as all the others—blank eyes and foam at the mouth. But unlike the others, he had a large gash in his shoulder… exactly where he had thrown the knife at me.
Manni, who stood a few steps behind, charged at me. “Murderer! You die!”
He normally couldn’t have bested me, but in his sudden rage, he managed to knock me off my feet and wrap his hands around my neck. Gasping for air, I could only get out, “Can’t… breathe…”
A gunshot erupted and the hands lost tension. Blood flooded Manni’s shirt, and his lifeless body collapsed onto the ground.
“Does anyone else want to try me?” the captain demanded. He stomped his way toward the rest of the crew. “I don’t care what kind of antiquated beliefs you have about women onboard ships, but I’m done with them. You will treat Trine as an extension of myself.”
As poised as he was, he couldn’t see the sailor approach him from the rear. “Cap… tain…” My voice was too hoarse from Manni’s attack to warn him of the incoming knife.
His eyes bulged. Grabbing his stomach was the least he could do, even as the blood pooled through his hands.
“Then we treat you same as her.” The crew member who had driven his knife into the captain’s stomach yanked it out and kicked him to the side.
“This… is mutiny…” the captain barely rasped out.
The crew member tossed the knife in the air. “Then we mutineers. Ship ours now!”
I pulled the captain up. He was alive, but barely. “We’re right in the middle of the Pyrantonese! How do you think we’ll get out alive without him? More, how do you expect to survive once I turn your bloody Filipino asses in to the Danish Royal Navy?”
“Shut up, witch! You die now!” He turned his knife toward me and took a few steps closer.
Laerke had taught me a great many things about logic and reason. She had taught me the flaws of the human brain, and how we sometimes outweigh logic with emotion. But most importantly, she taught me to run when my life was in danger.
I sprinted down the stairs as the crew gave chase. Thank gosh I left the door to my quarters open or I’d be in really big trouble right now. I slammed it shut, cutting me off from the rest of the world. At least, I tried to, but somebody had managed to get his hand in. Knives poked through the crack, hoping to stab me through it.
“Bones just aren’t that strong.” I put the full weight of my body against the door, pulverizing the hand.
I drowned out the screams by concentrating on securing my position. Switching the door to the locked position and fastening the deadbolt wasn’t enough—I needed a physical barrier. I threw any object I could in front of the door in a desperate attempt to keep them from breaking it down. Damn it, Malthe! You could at least help me a bit here.
But I couldn’t get the full effect of it with that damn hand stuck in there. “His fault.” I pulled my knife off my dresser and cut through the already blue mangled hand with surgical precision. Another scream erupted on the other side of my door.
The crew, probably finally realizing they weren’t going to get in by opening the door, started to slam a heavy object against it. Despite their attempts to intrude, the objects blocking the entrance rattled but held firm. At least I had enough in here for a barrier, even if it meant sleeping on the floor.
I grabbed every pot and portable water storage container left in my room and put them under the faucet. I had food in the refrigerator—thanks to my overprepared meals—but if they shut off my water, I’d be done for.
“Remember, two steps ahead is always enough to win the race,” Laerke’s voice echoed through my head. Even lost at sea, she was still helping me.
Somebody groaned. “Damn it, Malthe, what are you groaning about? I just constructed an entire damn barrier without your help while you hid in some corner naked. Why don’t you get off your lazy ass and—”
But Malthe wasn’t there. Instead, the captain lay down holding his stomach, groaning.
The hell? I don’t remember bringing him with me down here. I must’ve put it as an afterthought compared to the murderous mutineers thirsty for my blood. At least, that was the best I could hope for.
Bad news continued to pile up. Just as I dipped a rag under the running faucet to tend to him, it slowed to a halt.
“Guess they’re going to try to starve us out now,” I whispered to myself. If they managed to find and defuse the bombs, we’d probably last a good two days with the water I’d collected. Of course, that was assuming we didn’t shipwreck in the Pyrantonese.
My attention returned to the captain. He was barely conscious, and frankly, I was surprised he was alive with his wound. He’d need treatment if he was to stay that way.
His bloated gut may have saved his life. It wasn’t like stabbing was good for him, and there was blood loss to account for, but the knife should have missed any vital organs thanks to the adipose tissue. A little witch hazel and a bandage might staunch the bleeding until we get to Null, although a real doctor would have to treat him there. If we got to Null.
Years of studying first aid came in handy. While he was certainly worse for the wear, at least he wouldn’t die any time soon with my bandaging.
“Why do you bother?” asked a girl’s soft voice.
I sprung to action and pulled out my handgun. “Where are you, you bitch?”
The girl walked out from behind my bed. “It’s too late, Trine. It was too late for Laerke, and it is too late for you, too.” Was she in here all this time?
“The fuck are you talking about? What does Laerke have to do with this?”
She leaned against a wall. “He’s found you—the woman he needs for his plans. His eyes are on you. There is no escaping him.”
“Oh, shut up already!” I shot at her, but the bullet only clipped a strand of her hair. Impossible! I never missed!
“Violence solves nothing. Nothing solves anything for you anymore. It’s too late. That was your last shot, too,” she hummed and walked back behind my bed.
I charged around to grab her hand, but there was no girl behind my bed. Where did she go? What was this? A click of my gun confirmed that my pistol was now useless after that shot. I only had one fireable gun left in here.
The captain groaned.
Forget her. All I had to do was keep the captain alive. All I had to do was care for him, in hopes we survived this trip.
I curled up next to his unconscious body in my bed. Nine hours to go until the bombs went off, if they ever did. My eyes grew heavy, and with that, sleep descended upon me.
Night had long fallen when I woke up. A cold chill coursed through my room, much colder than should be possible with my heater. The crew must have cut our power, too. And with no electricity, the food in the refrigerator would spoil and we’d die. Then again, at this hour of the night, there was probably only a matter of minutes until the bombs went off.
“Ready for the end, Captain?” There was no response. Wait a second, there was no body, either. “Captain? Captain, where are you? Captain?!”
It didn’t matter what floor board I turned up or what corner I peeked in, the captain wasn’t there. There was nothing but emptiness. Maybe he left? But if he did, how? There weren’t any windows, and if he left, the barricade near the door wouldn’t be so well in place.
Enough about the captain. Right now, I had to think about survival. There were only two ways out my brain could think of. First, a rescue ship from the Danish Royal Navy catches up with us and takes back control. Second, I manage to get a hold of a life raft. One option, I cannot do anything but pray. The other, I could take action.
There should only be a skeleton crew working at this hour. If there was a time to secure a raft, it was now.
My pistol’s long out of ammo, so I pulled open my locker and grabbed my Sjorgren 12. It would be a war out there if I was spotted, and I didn’t want to become a sitting duck.
Clearing the blockade was child’s play compared to opening the door. It wasn’t that the door was physically hard to open, but rather, I had no clue what I would find on the other side. Were there people waiting with guns pointed at me? Would I see them before they saw me?
Something crashed when I threw it open. I steadied my gun ready to fire, but the crash was a corpse. The guy who got his hand caught in the door must have died from the shock and blood loss.
One challenge down. The next challenge wouldn’t be so easy. A man with a knife at the ready slept on the stairwell. A watch, I supposed, and a poor one at that. Besides him, there was nobody in sight.
A poor watch was still a problem, though. My hand slapped over his mouth, his shock giving me enough time to wrestle the knife out of his hand. All he could do was bite my hand, but the knife pressed against his throat all too quick.
“Dormir.” A red symphony of destruction fanned out from his neck, causing his body to go limp. He could rot at the bottom of the stairs for all I cared.
The stairs creaked from my weight. What made more sound, the creaking stairs or my thundering heart? It didn’t matter, one or the other would wake the crew, or I’d manage to escape. Ignoring them both, I pressed on for the main level.
The deck was empty, save for a man on the balcony keeping watch. I couldn’t believe it. In the middle of the Pyrantonese islands, they were trusting autopilot to navigate?
Again, this watch would be a problem, and I couldn’t slice his throat unnoticed—which was why I packed a gun. He stood like a sitting duck, completely unaware of my Sjorgren 12 aimed at his head. “Dormir.” The crack of the gun echoed in the night, and he collapsed to the deck below. I had to be careful with these shells. The Sjorgren 12 only had five slots, leaving me with four to go.
Many times, people had asked me why I said “Dormir” to my target. I’d never tell them the details, but Laerke had taught me it long ago on a cold night when the trauma of killing my captor came back to haunt me in nightmares. “Wish everyone to sleep before you kill them,” she had said. “It’ll calm your thoughts and make you rationalize whether that person truly deserves to die or not.”
These people, of course, did.
Several inflatable life boats were piled up on the other side of the deck. I should be able to grab one, but how would I escape the ship? I’d break my neck trying to jump off the boat from here. Perhaps the remaining officers on the ship were not mutineers? Maybe I’d have a chance if one of them helped me?
A flash of lightning revealed the impossibility of that thought. On every single mast, an officer had been tied up to keep a lifeless watch with a dagger in his heart. There was a sign written in a foreign language over each of their heads, but from the script used, it probably was to serve as a sort of a warning to the other crew members.
“Rest in peace.” To my relief, Malthe wasn’t tied up to any of the masts. He was better at blending in than I thought.
If I had more time, I’d untie them and give them a burial at sea. But my time had already run out. The doors to the barracks were opening and mutineers were calling to each other.
You idiot! Of course, they’d wake up. The Sjorgren 12 isn’t the quietest gun!
The crew members pulled out their knives. “Get her!”
Well, this was it then. Fight or flight.

Aria
“Dormir.” My finger pressed against the trigger, my muzzle targeting the nearest man. Mutineers are the lowest scum of the Earth. And of course, he deserved to die.
Bang!
The bang wasn’t just from my gun. With the force of an earthquake, the boat rocked close to capsizing. A billow of smoke rose from a new gaping hole in the middle of the deck, surrounded by squashed apples and oranges.
“Time’s up,” I grumbled.
“W-what goes on?” A mutineer crawled ever so cautiously to peer down into the hole.
“More that you’d understand.” These idiots wouldn’t understand a threat if it hit them in the face.
“Shut up, witch!”
Are these idiots lost for good? “You’re still going to hold onto your stupid superstitions after all this? I didn’t kill anybody! We’ve been working to save lives. There were bombs below deck, and we had to take action so this didn’t happen! But since I’m a girl, and you can’t seem to accept that, we’re sinking.”
I picked up a life raft. “If you want to keep your stupid beliefs, so be it—you can go down with the ship. For the rest of you, line up and get on a raft.”
The mutineers murmured amongst each other for a few moments. Only a couple returned to their quarters with the rest seemingly ready to take commands from a woman. Damn it, Captain, where are you? Even worse, where the hell is Malthe?
“Come on, in you go.” I lowered down the first life raft of six people and set it off.
Time froze again. Just like yesterday, that same dark hand seemed to reach out and cradle my heart with its shadowy digits. What now? What was that?
I tried to ignore it, hoisting the second set of sailors off, but there was no escaping the humming that filled the night air. Damn it! Why was she here? Where was she?
Boats. I couldn’t worry about a single girl. “Get in and go,” I grumbled, shoving the sailors onto the boat.
And then my dream came to a peak. The boat shook with the furor of the gods, and out of the central hull erupted hundreds of black tentacles, slimy and out for blood.
“What the living fuck?!”
There was no hope for those closest to the center of the boat, those that were at the source of the explosion. The tentacles slammed into them, sending them flying across the deck and into the wall. It didn’t take a genius to know there would be no surviving that.
The girl’s voice echoed in my head. “He’s found you—the perfect virgin. His eyes are on you. There is no escaping him.”
“Move, move!” I shouted, ignoring the girl. The hell did she know about me? Virgin? Pah!
The survivors jumped in the lifeboat—overcrowded but still buoyant.
“What about you?” the last man in the boat asked.
“I’m a witch, remember? I’d just curse your boat.” Before he could protest, and before the tentacles could strike at us again, I pushed it off. It wasn’t that I was self-sacrificing for a bunch of mutineers willing to go down with the ship. Malthe was still somewhere on this ship! There should still be a lifeboat left in the captain’s quarters, so if I could just find him…
A swipe of the tentacles snapped me out of my thoughts. It shot over and wrapped around my waist, squeezing tight. It would only be a second before I turned into a corpse like the others.
But it didn’t throw me like the others. Instead, it was as if the tentacle was trying to suck something out of my body.
“Trine!”
Who said that? It was a girl’s voice, but it didn’t have the mocking sneer of the girl’s voice I knew. This voice seemed gentle and concerned, as if concerned about me. But there shouldn’t have been any girls on this ship. In fact, outside of the few mutineers left in their cabins and Malthe, there shouldn’t be anyone left.
“Let Trine go!” This time I found the source of the call. A young girl stood at the starboard railing, her hands clenched in a pair of fists. Wait, why was this girl so familiar? With her starry blue eyes, her blond ponytail tied back with a ribbon, and lean body, she had to be someone I knew.
Wait, I did know her. That girl was me, at least, the me before the kidnapping. “Me?” I asked.
The girl took several steps toward the creature. “Of course, you. I may seem like a fat old geezer, but I am still your captain, damn it! Now, you fucking lump of flesh, let Trine go!”
I don’t know what was stranger—this little girl who looked like me, claiming to be the captain, or the tentacles obeying her directives. Yet, nonetheless, they retreated into the sea, and this girl ran over to me.
“Are you all right?” she asked. “Come on, there’s a lifeboat left for us.”
I didn’t know what to say. “Who… are you?”
She pushed aside some of her hair. “Are you blind? I’m Captain Carlsten.”
“The hell? Captain Carlsten is a fat guy, and you’re some ten-year-old version of me!”
She cocked her head. “Are you feeling all right?” At that moment, her eyes went wide. “We need to get out of here.”
“What? What’s happening?”
She pointed to a corpse. Except, it wasn’t a corpse anymore. Instead, red globs of flesh with no legs or arms squirmed toward us, wriggling while dragging the decayed skin behind. Did these…? Were these…? There was no doubt about it. These were our old crewmates!
Whether Malthe was in the quarters or not, my path to him was blocked. My only option was to save the two lives still on this ship. “Come on!” I grabbed the captain’s tiny hand and dove for the lifeboat. It tumbled off the ship with us, landing with a horrible splash.
It was just in time, too. Black tentacles burst out of the sea again, slammed against the boat, and broke it in two. The captain grabbed a paddle and stroked as hard as she could to get away from the boat, but with her body, she really did nothing compared to me.
The other lifeboats hadn’t gotten particularly far compared to us. “Those lazy crewmates don’t even know how to paddle,” I growled.
Darkness passed below us, heading straight to the other life boats. Before we could react, another black tentacle burst out of the sea, throwing a boat and its crew to their graves.
“No!” I shouted as another tentacle slashed through the second boat.
By the time I steadied my gun, three of the four boats were destroyed. I took aim, doing my best to ignore the captain’s nervous breakdown.
The tentacle shot up, and before it could smash down, I fired my third shell. The creature shrieked yet again—a high-pitched wail—and fell back into the water.
“You try to kill us?!” shouted a sailor.
I refastened the safety. “Kill you? Did you see that thing coming for you?”
“You sink boat!” He pointed to a hole in his ship—a hole my shell undoubtedly made.
Before I could retort, the tentacle emerged from the sea, eliminating the rest of them.
How could it have come to this? Just two days ago, I thought I’d find my sister. But now I knew I’d be joining her. Enough lying to myself—she died out here, and this thing had killed her.
And then I was underwater. A tentacle had shot out and wrapped around my neck, pulling me under. My breasts, my legs, my neck, and my waist—it had a full grasp on my body. The only thing I had free were my arms.
I couldn’t see the creature below. I didn’t know if it had the girl in one of its arms or not, but such a thing didn’t matter. I had to free myself first. And my answer lay in my Sjorgren 12.
A shell blasted out from it, exploding the tentacle in a wide array of black ink. The squirming couldn’t have lasted longer than an instant, but it gave me enough time to break free.
My lungs were on fire. I had to reach the surface! I pulled against the water, aiming for the dark clouds above. Two more strokes and I’d be there. One more…
My head burst out, and I heaved in the air like a robber taking money from a bank. But my reprieve was only for an instant as a fleshy mass wrapped around my leg and pulled me under again.
My gun only had one shell left. All I could do was break free of its grip, resurface, and then get pulled down for good. This would be my end.
The water’s murky surface didn’t reveal much. While all I could see were tentacles, there was something else farther down there. It had to have a head, right?
I had to do more than free myself for a few seconds of relief. I had to destroy the thing, or at least try. If I didn’t, it would be my death.
My gun pointed towards the darkness. But where should I aim? All I saw were tentacles in every direction, along with some driftwood floating to the surface.
Laerke’s voice echoed in the back of my head from when she taught me how to shoot. “If you don’t have a target, you might as well close your eyes and shoot. You’d be more likely to hit it that way.” It had been a warning then, telling me that if I didn’t aim, I’d never hit my target. But her advice somehow applied here, too.
I closed my eyes and let my hands wander, pointing the gun God knows where.
“Dormir.”
The shell exploded, and as it did, a horrible shriek came from below. When I opened my eyes, the creature recoiled with black blood pooling around it. “Is that it?” I asked. The creature answered my question, writhing away, scattering its blood throughout the ocean. With a final shriek, it disappeared, racing away from all of us and out of sight.
The bodies of my fellow sailors floated in the ocean among the driftwood. And on one of the pieces lay the captain, with her blond hair floating on the water’s surface.
I swam up to her and shook her gently. “Are you alive?”
Her eyes fluttered open. “I suppose if you can call this alive, I am.” Her hands gripped the driftwood tighter. “What are we going to do now?”
I put an arm around her and kicked. “I don’t know. But you’ll have to do what we all do every day. Live.”
---
“Hey, Trine. Trine, are you with me?”
Beeps filled the room. Where was I? Last thing I recalled, I had kicked on that piece of wood—which I soon learned was my ballistics case—for hours with the captain. But then everything got foggy.
I opened my eyes and saw several figures in white coats with clipboards.
“She’s alive, at least.”
“But the brain is hemorrhaging too severely. We’ll need to induce a coma.”
Something flowed into my arm. The blurry vision darkened, and I collapsed into a deep sleep.
---
My head pounded, forcing me awake. I wasn’t on a piece of driftwood or in some ship. From the simple white gown I wore instead of my military uniform, I could only conclude I’d been hospitalized.
A clipboard dropped onto the ground and a nurse ran out of the room. “Dr. Matthis! She’s up! She’s woken up!”
The man, Dr. Matthis, was a bit more prompt than some of the doctors I’d met at home. Mere seconds after being summoned, he entered my room with a clipboard of his own. “Good morning, Trine. How are you feeling?”
My head pounded its response. “Like utter shit.” Every muscle in my body ached.
He took down a few notes. “That’s to be expected, considering you spent the last three months in a coma.”
“Three months? What the hell was I doing out for that long?”
He pulled out a CT scan. “You sustained some pretty serious injuries from your shipwreck. We had to induce the coma or you’d have died. Your body must have responded in turn as we’d only expected it to last for a week or two.”
Memories of the tentacles slamming against the boat, the red globs of flesh, and the captain in the form of a little girl flooded my mind. What was that? Who was that little girl humming all the time? “What happened to the monster?” I whispered.
His smile turned to concern. In a hurry, he jotted down a note. “Just relax for now. You’re safe from any harm here… and monsters.”
“But what about—”
“I’ll call the Danish admiral and he can take it from here.”
I knew we weren’t in Denmark since he said admiral instead of kommandør. “Where are we?”
“The Southern Null hospital.”
That’s right, all the events happened in the Pyrantonese islands. Null would be the closest hospital around, probably to my luck considering how they had all the best doctors and nurses in the world.
If only the kommandør was as fast as the doctor. I spent the good majority of the day watching the only Danish channel on the television and answering the twenty doctors with questions for me. It wasn’t until the sun’s last rays began to set that he arrived.
“I’m surprised you’re up so soon,” the bitch said.
I faked a yawn. “I’m surprised you’re here… ever.”
He always was a hard-ass. “If you’re well enough to joke, you’re well enough to discuss. Let’s cut to the point—what happened on the Lyndwyrm?”
Straight to business, huh? I supposed I’d be the only eyewitness account left, save for the captain. But if the captain really did have the body of a little girl, he’d be insane to believe him. I started from the beginning—only leaving out the sexual parts.
The bitch let out a cough when I finished. “So that explains why you went through the Pyrantonese instead of around like I ordered.”
“I wasn’t yours to order around. The captain made the decision, I only advised.”
“Of course you did, or I’d have you arrested on the spot. Unfortunately, without any confession from you, we have no grounds for a case.”
“Confession? Confess to what?”
He gripped the arm of his chair. “For the murders you committed.”
“What?! You mean the watches? They were set to kill me! It was in self-defense!”
“All self-defense?” he asked. “The night your shoulder got cut, you mentioned going through your medicine cabinet, right?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
He pulled open a medicine cabinet in my room in demonstration. “And you had a whole bunch of items in a mess, right?”
“Of course. I’m always well-stocked.”
“And that book of formulas next to the witch hazel?”
My heart froze. “I was just reading it.”
He clenched his hand. “Trine, I know you better than you know. You like romance novels and novels on navigation and engineering. For you to be reading a pharmaceutical book like that would be pretty surprising. Even more amusing, that specific book, if it’s the same one you checked out from the library, has the formula for Sun’s Bane.”
Sweat poured off my body. “I-I didn’t poison anyone!”
The kommandør held his hand up for my silence. “Not just anyone. The crew members who defied you and threatened mutiny. But when you saw your plan didn’t work and I detonated the explosives, you thought to destroy the evidence? Pretty cruel of you to sink the life rafts with the surviving crew members.”
“I didn’t sink them! I was trying to save them from the tentacles!”
He bit his lip. “There was an eighteen-and-a-half-millimeter hole in each one of them. Only one person owned that sort of gun to make that hole.”
“That was just my aim! I hit the tentacle, and it hit the boat, too!”
The kommandør folded his arms. “Yeah, just like you to miss a shot. You’re a sharpshooter. You don’t miss.” He lifted my gun off the supply table. “Not to mention, this gun would never be able to shoot underwater like you said it did.”
This couldn’t be happening. “I’m telling you the truth.”
He traced his finger along the barrel of the gun. “Pop quiz. How many shots does the Sjorgren 12 hold?”
I barely managed to whisper, “Five.”
The kommandør counted on his fingers. “One for the man on the balcony, one for the mutineer during the explosion, one for the tentacle attacking the life raft, one for the tentacle around your neck, and one at the monster, right? That was the story you told the doctor. So, it should be empty then, right?”
I nodded.
“Or if my story’s correct, you used four on the life rafts, and there’s one still in here.”
He pulled the breech bolt back, holding the gun to face the ceiling. And to my disbelief, a mysterious sixth shell fell out. Or, as he’d say, the remaining fifth shell I never fired.
“Y-you put another one in!”
He put the gun down. “Anybody could tell you I didn’t touch it until now. But as I said, there’s simply not enough evidence to prosecute you for your crimes. Nobody can conclusively say those holes came from this gun or what have you.”
I gripped the rail of my bed. “What about the captain? He, or well, she should agree with my story!”
“The captain? He went down with the ship.”
“Impossible! He was with me on my ballistics case, well… in the form of a young girl who looked like me and—”
“Young girl?” He paused to think for a few seconds, until a lightbulb seemed to go off. “Give me a second.” He dialed on his phone, and within a few minutes, the nurse came by with a girl trembling on her feet. She wore a pink sundress and had the same bow affixed in her hair as before.

The kommandør bent down. “Esther, do you know this woman?”

She looked at me for a few moments. “You told me she was my mother. Isn’t she?”

Her… mother? What the hell?

“Were you ever the captain of a ship?”

She tapped her chin. “Well, I suppose the ship to dreamland.”

I sprung upright in my bed, nearly ripping out my IV. “That’s not possible!”

“We’re not sure about this mystery ourselves, but we have done enough DNA testing to make sure. This girl is without a doubt your daughter. You must’ve done a good job hiding your pregnancy back in Odense, although this would have had to happen a long time ago. She’s not much help either, since she can’t seem to remember anything beyond the last seventy-two hours of her life. We’re still looking for her father and—”

“Malthe,” I interrupted him.

He cocked his head. “Excuse me?”

“After Laerke disappeared, Malthe and I had been screwing around. If it was anyone, it was him. But where is he? He was on board the ship!”

He sighed. “Never mind that. We need to discuss your future.”

He wasn’t going to answer me, was he? Better to give him what he wanted. “Back to pushing papers?”

“No. You will be committed into the psych ward. After—”

“No!” This time I really did tear out my IV. “You can’t make me go there! This really happened! I’m not fantasizing it!”

“Let me finish.” He held out his hand. “You will be committed into the psych ward. After your stay, you will be promoted to Lieutenant Korporal and given an honorable discharge. You will be granted full citizenship to Null and have your own apartment. The promotion should give you enough money in benefits to last you for life. As Null law doesn’t allow us to separate children from parents once they are deemed sane, you’ll be allowed to live with Esther in peace doing whatever you please.”

“Wait, no!” I struggled to get out of my bed, but my legs were still too weak. “I can’t! I need to go on missions and find Laerke!”

He sighed. “You don’t have a choice in the matter. And give up on Laerke already. She’s dead.”

He turned his back to me.

“Wait! What about Malthe?”

“Malthe?” He looked over his shoulder.

“He was there on the ship with me! He survived, didn’t he?”

The kommandør bit his lip. “You really haven’t recovered from your delusions, have you? I told you this during your house arrest after the police found you drinking from an invisible bottle and frantically masturbating. Malthe committed suicide the night Laerke died. He is dead and buried.”

Dead? What did he mean Malthe was dead? He was with me the night of my first meeting with the captain, with me during those nights of house arrest… with me on the boat… All while those hums… those hums….

That’s right. I never had sex with Malthe. I was a virgin.

By the following night, I was locked back up in that room with white walls, with nothing to look forward to except the next appointment with the psychologist.

“I told you it was futile.” The young girl with black pigtails leaned against one of my walls with her arms folded. “You should give up while you can. It sounds like you’ll have an easy life once you get out of here.”

I paced around the room, knowing I’d never reach the girl of my delusions. “I won’t accept that.”

“Then what’ll you do?”

“I answer to nobody when I leave here. I’m free. Nobody can stop me from returning to the Pyrantonese islands on my own. Nothing can stop me from finding Laerke.”

The girl smiled. “It’s too late. It’s always too late…”