Maricossa wanted to scream. He wanted to hit someone. He wanted to shoot himself.
If one more person kindly told him they didn’t need his help, if he heard one more suggestion of “why don’t you just go rest and read a book,” if one more person offered to help him with some paltry task, if his new prosthetic seized up on him one more time, he was seriously considering throwing himself off the Defoe.
As footsteps of varying rhythms and weights thumped across the deck above his head, Maricossa paced in the hold between the rows of bunks, trying to follow orders and stay out of everyone’s way. It seemed staying out of the way was the only thing left to him, at least until he finished healing and learned to use this blasted prosthetic hand.
If he learned to use it.
Groaning through clenched teeth, Maricossa dropped into the bunk Mrs. Monday had assigned him when he moved out of the upstairs cabin, and stared up at the metal parts and pieces now attached to his wrist.
His thumb was still his, normal flesh and bone he could move and feel. His palm and fingers, though, were gone—replaced by machinery. It looked something like an archer’s gauntlet, only made of metal. The professor called it his “new hand,” and assured him that in time he would be learn to use it as well as he’d used his natural one.
Maricossa wasn’t so sure. So far, none of his attempts to use it had ended well.
Skylar had told him to imagine that the metal part was just a glove, that his real fingers were still inside and all he had to do was move them to make the glove move too. He’d tried, over and over. Half the time it wouldn’t move at all. The other half, it jerked into a tight fist and seized up, refusing to relax, literally locking him in the grip of crippling pain. After a very few recurrences of that incident Maricossa had lost all interest in continuing his efforts, despite Skylar’s and the professor’s assurances that he would get the hang of it. Instead, he’d been making do with his left hand.
He was off the pain killers now, not because the pain was gone but because it was easier to cope with than the side effects of the meds. Dizziness and the inability to keep food down simply weren’t worth it. Of course, the pain had its own side effects: he knew he’d been irritable and short with everyone, and he was probably driving them as insane as he felt. He hadn’t slept well in days, and he was unable to do anything but wander around the Defoe, get in people’s way, and think.
Thinking wasn’t a good thing for him to be doing right now. All his thoughts seemed to lead back to Connie, to the realization that he’d been nothing but a tool to her, to the nightmares about her that continued to plague him. Cooped up on board the Defoe and unable to do anything physical, he had no way of escaping the chaos inside his own head.
The creak of a hatch and a pattering set of footsteps pulled him out of his bog of self-pity. What was that phrase he’d read just recently—the Slough of Despond?
Mia peeked around the end of the middle row of bunks.
“Mister Maricossa?” she whispered.
“Are you asleep?”
Maricossa smiled. “No, sweet girl.”
She slipped around the corner and tiptoed towards him. “Hamlet says to tell you supper is ready if you’re not asleep.” She was still whispering.
Maricossa sat up, swung his feet to the floor, and waited a moment. He still had occasional dizzy spells if he stood up too quickly.
Mia approached from the right and started to reach for his hand, but stopped when she realized it was the new mechanical one. Instead, she crossed to his left side and took that hand. Maricossa suspected that the prosthetic hand scared her. It would explain why she’d always been nervous around Skylar.
He let her lead him by the hand to the dining room—a narrow room just off the galley, at the other end of the ship. Small portholes along one wall usually let in some light, but the day was fading fast and the portholes were now on the Defoe’s shaded side. Instead, half a dozen oil lanterns provided dim, sooty light.
Mrs. Monday stood in one corner watching and offering instructions as Dash and Leelee moved along the narrow space between the table and the wall, arranging silverware and napkins.
“No, no, turn the knives the other way, Leelee. There’s a girl. Now, Dashielle, I watched you refold Hezekiah’s map perfectly just this afternoon, so I’m certain you can make that napkin a little neater, wot?”
Mia tugged Maricossa towards the table. “You can sit by me,” she said.
The door at the far end of the room opened and Libby breezed in. “Oh—hey, Maricossa!” she said. “How’s the hand?”
Maricossa wasn’t sure how to answer, so it left it at a half-hearted “Alright.”
“Looked out the window lately?” Libby asked, her eyes wide and a slight smile on her face.
Maricossa shook his head. “Not for a few hours. Why?”
Libby came around the table, turned sideways to slide past him, and pecked a finger on the glass of one of the portholes. “Have a look at that!”
Maricossa leaned down to look out, Mia’s head under his chin as she stood on tiptoe to see too. Dark blue waves spread out hundreds of feet below, marked by only the occasional white breaker. Miles away, a jagged strip of green and tan coastline was visible.
“That’s the Mediterranean Sea!” Libby said. “Can you believe it? That’s the Mediterranean Sea! I’ve read about it in like a gazillion books and now I’m actually looking down at it from my brother’s airship! It’s awesome!”
“If we’re over the Mediterranean already, we must be making fairly good time,” Maricossa said.
“I guess,” Libby said with a shrug, still staring out at the view.
“Hez says the winds are favorable,” Dash spoke up from the other side of the table. “If they keep up like this he thinks we might even make Tianzhu a few days early.”
“Good,” Maricossa said, straightening and turning back to the table.
Hamlet came in just then with a huge platter of something that steamed and smelled delicious. Scarf followed right on his heels, nose in the air and tail waving wildly, licking his chops.
“Eat up, me hearties!” Hamlet said, lowering the platter to the table.
Skylar, Coll, the rest of the kids, and the professor all came into the room. After a few minutes of bumping, jostling, and crowding, everyone managed to get seated. They tucked into the delicious fare and ate while they watched evening shadows settle over the Mediterranean.
By now Maricossa was beginning to get used to using a fork with his left hand, so this meal was a little easier than previous ones had been. The professor admonished him about using his left hand instead of his prosthetic, but he ignored it.
Dash and all the other kids but Mia left as soon as they had finished eating. Hamlet left just long enough to bring a pot of tea in, much to the delight of the professor and Mrs. Monday. As tea cups, sugar, and cream made their way around the table, Mia crawled into Maricossa’s lap and curled up, gazing sleepily out the porthole. Under the table, Scarf flopped down on Maricossa’s feet and heaved a contented sigh.
For a while they all sipped their tea in silence. Professor was the first to speak.
“Well, Maricossa, aside from your apprehension about your new hand, how are you faring?”
Maricossa set his teacup down and stared at it for a moment, trying to decide how he should phrase his answer. “I’ll be better once I can stop being so useless,” he said.
“I suppose you think being able to work around the ship and give orders again will resolve everything that’s bothering you,” Mrs. Monday said.
Maricossa stared at her. It was that obvious?
An awkward silence filled the room, stretching out as Maricossa tried to think of an answer and failed. He didn’t think getting back to work would resolve all of his problems, but at least it would allow him to bury them, push them from the forefront of his mind.
Libby cleared her throat. “So, uh...” The silence was obviously making her uncomfortable, but she seemed to be having trouble finding anything to say. “So, why does that... Connie... always call you Galvin instead of Maricossa like everyone else? Which one is your real name?”
Maricossa clumsily picked up a spoon and stirred his tea. It wasn’t exactly a change of subject, but at least it was something to talk about. And anyway, these people were his family now, so he supposed they had a right to know.
He cleared his throat. “They’re both my real name,” he said. “Galvin is my first name, Maricossa is my last name. Or at least, the only last name I knew until just a few weeks ago. It was my mother’s maiden name, but she went back to it after my father disappeared, when the Bug Wars started. She said it was to protect me. Apparently my real, legal last name is O’Shannon.”
“Aha! I knew you had to be Dominic’s boy!” the professor declared, giving the table a satisfied thump with his hand. “Didn’t I tell you he had to be Dominic’s boy?” he asked, looking around the table at the others.
“Professor!” Mrs. Monday scolded.
“It’s alright, Mrs. Monday,” Maricossa said, in spite of the way his heart was pounding. “Dominic O’Shannon... was my father. I just never knew it until Professor here figured it out.”
“So you never knew your dad?” Skylar asked.
Maricossa shook his head, hoping that would be the end of the topic. He’d never discussed his past with anyone—ever. Having it dragged out onto the dining table like this was beyond uncomfortable.
“So...” Libby twisted one of her braids around her finger. “What should we call you? I mean, if your first name is Galvin and your real last name is O’Shannon...”
Maricossa took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to call myself anymore, Libby. Since... since Mom died... the only people who’ve ever called me ‘Galvin’ are Connie and Sergei. So that’s not exactly something I’m eager to answer to. Now that I know who my father was I’d like to take his name, but O’Shannon feels so foreign, I don’t know if I could answer to it.”
“We could call you ‘Wesley,’” Libby said.
Everyone at the table turned to stare at her.
“What? He always quotes The Princess Bride, so Wesley would be a good name,” Libby said. “It—it was just an idea. Geez.”
“You’ve always been ‘Maricossa’ to us,” Skylar said. “I say just stick with that. Or maybe you could change your name and be ‘Maricossa O’Shannon’ if you want to take your dad’s name but don’t want the ‘Galvin’ part anymore.”
That actually wasn’t a bad idea, Maricossa realized. He was about to say so when Mia, who he’d thought had gone to sleep, sat up and looked at him.
“Or we could call you ‘Daddy,’” she said.
Maricossa’s heart stopped.
Libby clapped a hand over her mouth, snickering. Skylar turned red, the professor looked amused, and Coll and Hamlet exchanged a look.
Maricossa didn’t have the first idea of what to say or do. He looked to Mrs. Monday hoping for some help, but she only gave him a matronly smile, set her teacup down, and pushed her chair back.
“Well, I’m not going to call him ‘Daddy,’ Mia,” she said, “but I think it’s just lovely that you want to.” She stood up and looked at the others. “Why don’t we all go get a start on those dishes, then?”
Coll gestured at the table. “But Mom, all the dishes are still here.”
“Nonsense, Driscoll,” Mrs. Monday said, giving Coll a look that was pure ice. “There are pots and pans to wash. Now come along.” Her tone left no room for argument, and everyone—even the professor—rose and followed her out of the room, shutting the door behind them.
Maricossa looked back at Mia, who stared at him with a puzzled look.
“How come they all left so fast?” she asked.
“Mia,” Maricossa said, his voice thick, “I don’t know what to say. Did you mean that, about... about calling me Daddy?”
She nodded. “’Cause you are.”
“Because I am... what?”
“Um—okay, uh...” Maricossa tried to clear his throat, but all he could do was rasp. “Mia, I don’t think you quite understand—”
She nodded rapidly, her pigtails bouncing. “Uh-huh I do, because the daddy I had before explained it to me.”
Maricossa frowned. “What?” His voice was shaking now.
Mia looked down at her lap. “The daddy I had before died,” she said quietly. Then she looked back up at him. “But he said I might get another one someday, ’cause a daddy is the person who loves you and takes care of you and keeps you safe, so I could be sad when he died if I wanted, but I didn’t need to be sad forever. And now you keep me safe.”
Maricossa tried to blink away the tears in his eyes, but they ran down his face instead.
Mia’s forehead furrowed. “Is it gonna make you sad if I call you Daddy?”
Maricossa shook his head, contradicting the additional tears that came. “No, Mia,” he said when he found his voice again. He took a deep breath to steady himself before continuing: “I would be very, very happy if you called me Daddy, sweet girl.”
“Then don’t cry.” Mia reached up and wiped the tears off of his face with her hand, then curled back up on his lap like she had been before.
Maricossa wrapped his arms around her, careful not to bump his new hand, and kissed the top of her head. He’d thought his dreams of having a family of his own were gone when he’d lost Connie. Now he had a family.
He had a daughter.
“I love you, Mia,” he whispered. Only once he said it did he realize that he’d never told her before. He’d loved her like his own child for months, and he’d never told her.
She yawned and leaned her head against him, her eyelids drooping.
After she’d gone to sleep, Maricossa carried her to her bunk in the hold and tucked her in, then headed up to the main deck of the Daniel Defoe.
Hezekiah lounged in the pilot’s seat, one hand on the wheel, staring out at the dark Mediterranean. He turned at Maricossa’s approach, but only long enough to see who was behind him.
“Hey Ti-borg,” he said. “How’re you getting along with the new brass knuckles?”
Maricossa ignored the remarks and sank into the co-pilot’s seat, joining Hez in staring out at the sea. “Dash says we’re making good time,” he said.
Hez nodded. “Cute kid, Dash. Smart too. Picked up map reading just like that. She’d make a good navigator with a little training—”
“Forget it, Hez,” Maricossa said. “How long ‘til we make Tianzhu?”
Hez shrugged. “Another couple weeks, at least. The winds are helping right now, but we’ll have to stop off in Turkey to renew the food and water supply. That’ll take a day at most.”
Maricossa gave him a skeptical look. “Only a day?”
Hez grinned. “It’s pretty easy to get things done fast when you know the right places to stop.”
“I’m not letting you take us anywhere where the kids and books aren’t safe.”
“Don’t worry.” Hez yawned and stretched. “You turning in, Ti-borg?”
Maricossa shook his head. “I’ve done nothing but roam around and sit and sleep since we left the bunker. I’m not really tired.”
“Best news I’ve had all day,” Hez said, standing up and stretching again. “Keep her at this altitude, on that compass heading. I’m hitting the sack.”
He swaggered off towards his cabin, and Maricossa moved into the pilot’s seat.
He held the wheel with his left hand, letting his right rest on his leg. Brass knuckles, Hez had called his prosthetic hand. Not a bad thought, really. Once Maricossa learned to use it, it could be devastating as a weapon. That was actually kind of exciting to think about.
So, as the Defoe sailed through the velvet darkness towards Tianzhu, and his family—his daughter—slept safely in the hold, Maricossa clenched his teeth against the pain and started practicing, moving his mechanical fingers one by one.