“Captain?” Kaori repeated hopelessly. “Annie, are you okay”
The silence was her answer.
She didn’t want to believe it; the reactor must have suffered a meltdown. Annie was dead.
The guilt was like a stone in her gut. That little captain had saved her, had believed in her. And now she was dead. Because Kaori’s plan didn’t work.
“Annie?” she asked again.
It didn’t make sense. Her plans were perfect, she was sure of it, the machine she designed was safe. Had she made a mistake when she relayed the instructions? Had Annie input the work order incorrectly?
“Annie?” Still nothing.
Whatever it was, Kaori only had herself to blame. Annie was brilliant, but she was nine. Kaori shouldn’t have tried to give complicated mechanical instructions like that to a little girl. She should have just told her how to preserve enough power to call a rescue ship.
A few weeks ago she was nothing, but Nav and Annie whisked her away, they told her she could be something. They were wrong.
“Annie?!” She shrieked into the microphone before succumbing to the grief and the shame. In a daze she lost herself, losing track of her own actions. Time passed. Hours, or maybe minutes, she didn’t know. She only knew that by the time Ashur found her, she had attached her ugly junk arm to her body. She was numb.
Ashur’s eyes flashed with surprise.
He rushed to her, crouching down to look at her with a concerned expression.
“What has happened?”
Was Ashur really worried about her? The very idea infuriated her. This was all his fault! He did this! Now he had the gall to act like he was concerned? That alien monster didn’t care enough about Annie not to leave her marooned, it was laughable to believe he cared enough now to be worried.
The fury woke her up. Cold guilt replaced by burning rage. Her veins were filled with an inferno.
She would need to explain first, then she could lay into him, tell him words more toxic than the sludge pits on Scrappis. Beautifully harsh words, words that would hurt him. All she needed to do was say three words first: Annie is dead, then she could let out the anger, then she could hurt him with knife-words. But she couldn’t waste one drop of the inferno raging inside of her on the context, every last spark needed to be spent on hating him. It had to be.
She prepared herself to say three calm words, that was all, just three.
She opened her mouth, finding her lips to be slick with bitter tears.
But there were no words that came out, just a shriek of bestial rage.
Ashur fell backward, barely fast enough to avoid a killing blow from Kaori’s mechanical fist.
He scrambled backward and Kaori rushed to her feet, grabbing at the empty air, screaming with berserker rage. He tried to stand, but the scavenger was too fast, her crude scrap hand caught him by the collar of his robe and threw him straight through the poorly made wall of the ship and into the next room. She was after him the moment he was out of her hand.
What was happening to her? She had never attacked anyone before, not without them attacking her first. This wasn’t like her.
But her reservations were overcome as she saw Ashur lying in a heap on the floor. She picked the creature up with her biological hand, he was far lighter than expected, far lighter than a human his size would have been.
Kaori shoved him against a wall, preparing a punch with her metal fist, a punch that would crunch right through Ashur’s skull. He was bleeding a thick white liquid through a crack in his shell, leaving white streaks against his obsidian black face.
“Stop!” He choked.
Kaori had never killed anyone before, but she supposed begging wasn’t an uncommon way to die.
“D-don’t hurt her!”
That was odd. Come to think of it, he didn’t look like he was even speaking to her, more like he was speaking past her. She glanced over her own shoulder to check.
Each and every scrapbot had a weapon out, poised and ready to attack. Most of them were close, barely a moment away from killing her. They were frozen in place, like murderous little statues.
Had Ashur just saved her life?
She snapped out of her berserker rage, stumbling back overtop the scrapbots. Ashur slid down the wall to the floor, clearly grievously wounded. Still, he tried to stumble upright, but a broken leg meant he could only sit up slightly while looking at her.
“What happened?!” He spat milk-like blood from his mouth.
Kaori fell into the rough-hewn metal corner of the room, holding her head in disbelief at her own actions.
Ashur took hold of a railing on the wall, dragging himself up on his working leg.
Ashur froze in place, nearly falling back down again.
“Ksha ikhri! How? She should have had enough left to call for rescue and keep her alive until they got there, assuming she was smart enough to cut all systems and power her life support with spare power sources.”
Kaori coiled up tighter into herself.
“I told her to build a reactor.”
“Y-you-” His mouth dropped in incredulity. “How?!”
“She had all the parts. Reactor melted down. I killed her.” The alien didn’t answer, stumbling over to her instead. With a grunt of pain, he slid down the wall to sit next to her.
“It’s neither of our faults that the little girl was stubborn. If it wasn’t your reactor, she’d have gotten herself killed some other way trying to get to Relic. I gave her a way out at least if she turned back.”
“You knew she wouldn’t,” Kaori choked out.
Ashur looked serious.
“I let it be her choice.” He delicately placed a hand on Kaori’s shoulder. “Not your fault either, Sahri.”
She pulled away from him, storming across the room.
“How isn’t it? My machine got her killed. If I was better, Annie would be alive.”
“And if you were even better than that Sahri, no one would ever die, so wonderful would be your inventions.”
She froze, was he saying she was responsible for even more?
“W-what?” she stuttered in answer.
“I mean that not being capable of saving someone is not something you can be blamed for, else we’re all to blame for not being healers.”
“But she thought I could! Just once, I thought that I could…” she trailed off.
“Sahri, you came close, and you’re barely more than a girl-ling, just imagine what you can do in three years, then in thirty. Right now there are maybe six people in the spur with the knowledge to design what you tried too, and each of them will be like a candle against the sun compared to you in a few years. Think of how many you’ll save then. Your captain will be watching from the other side of the great door, and she’s gonna smile when she sees.”
Why was he being like this? Why was he acting like he cared? And why were his words so comforting?
She didn’t have those answers.
“Listen,” said the alien, “You feel grief, guilt and anger. Those things are big, too big for an akkadar, and I’m willing to bet, too big for a human too.”
“Yes Sahri, they’re too big to deal with in a single moment, you need to feel in many parts, not all right now.”
How was she supposed to do that? The guilt was like a drill in her brain, she couldn’t just ignore it.
“Keep busy. Too busy to think.”
“I don’t understand.” she said.
“You don’t have to Sahri, let’s start by bringing me to my quarters, I need to bandage myself up.”
She had almost forgot how badly she had hurt him. That was stupid. She wasn’t mad at him before, she was mad at herself. She felt horrible for beating him so badly.
“You’re twisting your face into a knot scavenger, just help me to my bunk and we’ll call things even, yes?”
She nodded, but knew she was still going to be feeling guilty about it for a long time yet.
She lifted his arm over his shoulder and the two of them hobbled over to his door. She had never seen the inside before, it was usually locked.
It was a small space, much cleaner than the rest of the ship. Odd circles were painted white on the walls, religious symbols most likely. There was a small cot in the corner, barely better than the roll Kaori was using. The rest of the room was empty, save for a small shrine and a holy book. He spent most of his time in here, did that he really prayed that much? He didn’t seem religious by human standards, but that may not be a good standard to judge by.
He crashed into bed and began shooing her away immediately.
“Go. I need to sleep. Our bodies repair a little when we rest.”
“Do we need to fix your leg? The bone is broken.”
“I’m not a human, girl, our bodies work differently. The bone was weak to begin with, my shell provided most of the structure. It will molt soon and It will be regrown in a few weeks. I just need time.”
She made to leave before he stopped her.
“I’ll be out in five hours, that hole in my wall better be patched by the time I’m out or else you’re going without food tomorrow, understood?”
That was impossible! She’d need welding equipment! And several days!
“You’re on the clock Sahri, better get started.”
He was right, she didn’t have time to argue.
The girl-thing rushed out of his room without another argument. He smirked; that should keep her mind off of the captain for now.
The whole plan was going far less well than intended. Her being vulnerable was a big help to his plans, but he hadn’t expected her to be hurting that much. He knew how that felt. It was rough. Ashur felt sorry for her. It worried him how protective he was feeling of her.
There was nothing for it. He would abandon her when the time came, that wouldn’t be a problem. He too needed to get his mind off of his problems. He ordered his scrapbot to keep playing the book.
-Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!-
Only then did he realize that he was going to be spending the next few weeks as a man with one leg, like Long John himself. He groaned at the irony.