Maricossa could feel himself sliding in and out of consciousness, and it infuriated him. The White Tiger would be on them, and they needed to get out—completely away from ShandorRei, for good.
Hamlet. Brick. He’d promised Libby he’d go back for them. He had to go back.
He looked around, trying to figure out where he was and how he’d gotten here. It looked like he was in one of the cabins on the airship. He knew how to get to the deck from here, but suddenly the Professor was there, forcing him to sit down, and Maricossa seemed to have lost his ability to resist.
How did Professor get here? Then he remembered: they’d already made it back to the bunker. The bunker! They had to get out. They needed his help.
He looked up at where the Professor had been, but saw Skylar instead. He blinked, but the image stayed the same and he suddenly wondered how much blood he’d actually lost. Was Skylar even real? Was Skylar even real?
“Skylar, we have to get the books and the kids out of here,” he said. “We have to…” A swell of dizziness almost made him fall from wherever it was he was sitting. He fought through it, but when he looked up again Skylar was gone.
Then the Professor was back, talking in gibberish and trying to force him to lie down.
“I have to get us out of here,” Maricossa growled. He struggled back up to a sitting position.
“Hezekiah will do that, don’t you worry.”
“Hezekiah is exactly why I’m worried!”
“He has Skylar and Libretto to help him,” the Professor said, resting a hand on Maricossa’s shoulder.
And none of them have any idea the kind of firepower a White Tiger gunship carries.
“You’re not making me feel any better.” Maricossa shoved the old man’s hand away and started to stand up, until the room listed to one side.
Maricossa’s stomach turned, and he sat back down heavily. He thought it was just dizziness coming back, until an open book slid across the top of the bedside table in the cabin and thunked onto the floor. His brain told him to go pick it up, even as he was struggling to stay upright, and he found himself trying to see the title on the spine.
At a time like this.
Keep it together, Maricossa, he told himself.
Mia appeared and threw her arms around his leg, looking up at him with wide eyes. Remnants of tears still clung to her eyelashes. He wondered for a second if she was real, but he could feel her so she must be.
The ship lurched to the other side, and through the walls Maricossa heard the blast of a cannon. In another second Mia was on the bed next to him, clinging to his left arm, her face pressed against his shoulder.
“Hey,” he said softly. “Hey, sweet girl, it’s okay.” He pulled his arm out of her grip and put it around her. She climbed into his lap and curled into a ball against him, hiding her face.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he whispered against the top of her head.
He hoped she didn’t feel him flinch when the sound of another cannon shot shook the Defoe.
He couldn’t hear any return fire from the Defoe. What in the world was Hez doing?
“Listen, Mia, I’ve got to go for a minute,” he said, starting to get up.
She curled into a tighter ball, clenching handfuls of his shirt in her fists.
“You’ll do no such thing.” The Professor was back again. “Now Maricossa, I don’t believe in drugging a man against his will. But if you are going to persist in—” He stopped for a moment, frowning at Maricossa’s bandaged hand. “Oh, bother!”
He turned away, rummaging in a bag, and Maricossa slowly raised his injured hand to look at it. The already-stained bandages had become darker, now shiny with fresh blood. Maricossa’s fingers stuck stiffly out of the bandaging, turning a sickly gray. He discovered that he could move his thumb like normal, and his forefinger a little, but the rest refused to respond at all.
The Professor turned back to him with rolls of fresh bandages. “I’m afraid this hand of yours isn’t willing to wait for a calm, safe moment to receive attention. For the last time, Maricossa, lie down.”
Maricossa heard the words, but they sounded far away, echoey. Black spots swarmed the edges of his vision, crowding closer and closer, more and more of them, until his field of vision narrowed to a circle the size of a watch face.
A map. Filling his vision. He blinked.
The Professor’s face in front of the map. Oh—the map is on the ceiling. Captain’s cabin. Hez…
His hand — the pain was worse than before. He could feel Professor working on it—fiery agony that moved and shifted without ever going away.
He tried to speak, tried to unclench his teeth — no. Too much. A scream gritted against his teeth, but he couldn’t move, his muscles locked into place.
The Professor’s head turned and their eyes met.
“Maricossa! You’re awake!” he said. He turned away for a moment, and when he turned back he had a needle in his hand. “Good heavens, you’re not supposed to be awake yet. Here: I’m going to give you an injection to put you back under so I can finish working on you, alright?”
Maricossa was completely incapable of responding—he couldn’t even breathe. But either the Professor hadn’t really been asking for his consent, or else he assumed it was granted, because Maricossa felt the cold needle slide into his arm, and seconds later the room went black again.
He was lying on the cobblestone surface of what appeared to be an alley in the forgotten sector. The walls and rubble seemed to blur and warp around him as he struggled to his feet and looked down at his injured right hand. The bandages were gone, and blood dripped slowly from his fingers.
Connie stood in front of him, staring in horror at his hand as tears poured down her face.
“Galvin, I am so, so sorry,” she said. Her eyes darted from his hand to his face and back again. “I never meant for this to happen. I had no choice in what I did. The Green Dragon has my father. They said they would kill him!”
Maricossa took a slow breath to calm his racing pulse. His heart ached at the sorrow, the fear, in Connie’s beautiful eyes. Who was he to judge her, as if she were the only person the Cardinal Point Alliance had thrust into circumstances she hated? It was a wonder the two of them hadn’t been forced to turn against each other long before now.
“Believe me, Galvin,” Connie continued, “I would never, ever hurt you.”
Maricossa forced a smile, though the pain in his hand made it difficult. “I know.” It was true. All along, some part of him had always known that Connie was loyal to him.
She came towards him, fresh tears still pouring down her cheeks. “I am so sorry,” she said again. “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be with you. I love you.”
She was close enough now that Maricossa put his good arm around her and pulled her to him. “I’ve loved you since the moment I met you,” he whispered.
She looked up at him and smiled through her tears. He closed his eyes and kissed her.
And she slid a knife between his ribs.
Maricossa jumped awake, his heart hammering and roaring in his ears. The first thing he realized was that Connie hadn’t really stabbed him. Which was a relief, but a sick feeling of horror still hung on in the back of his mind, and he shoved all thoughts of the dream away.
It wasn’t real. He didn’t need to think about it.
The next thing he realized was that the Professor had to have given him something while he was out. The pain in his hand was still there, but it was much milder than it had been before, and a strange sensation he could only describe as a cloud of cold dizziness wafted around inside his head. He recognized the feeling from when he’d broken two ribs in a sparring session a few years back, and the doctor had given him an injection for the pain. It had had the same side effect.
Once his pulse and breathing calmed down enough, he could feel the gentle motions that meant the Defoe was still in the air. But there were no shots being fired, no voices shouting, no running footsteps.
He turned his head to where he could feel his right arm and hand lying beside him. His hand appeared to be propped up on a pillow or something—he couldn’t tell for sure because it was covered with a cloth.
Taking great care not to move his right hand from its position, he reached over with his left hand to move the cloth and get a look at it. There had been too much blood to really see the extent of the injury before.
A touch on his left arm made him jerk back. He turned his head and saw Mia perched in a chair on her knees, leaning over his bed.
“Mia! You scared me.”
“Sorry, Mister Maricossa.”
Maricossa let out a breath and dropped his head back to the pillows. “No, it
sweet girl, I just didn’t know you were there.” He took her hand in his and
gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Professor says he’ll be right back, and don’t touch your hand ’cause it’s not ready yet. And Mister Hez says don’t bleed on the floorboards.”
Maricossa couldn’t help a smile at that. “Gotta love the compassion of a pirate,” he muttered.
“Mister Hez is a pirate?!” Mia blurted. “Like in Peter Pan?”
Maricossa groaned, wishing he hadn’t said anything. “No, it’s not like that, Mia, it’s—just forget I said anything.”
Mia scowled and crossed her arms. “Well, I’m not gonna join his crew. He uses words that Libby says aren’t nice, and his cat scratched me and growled at Scarf.”
Maricossa was still trying to keep from laughing when the cabin door opened and the Professor came in.
“Ah, Maricossa! Glad to see you awake.”
“Do I get to stay awake this time?”
“Indeed you do, my boy. Well—for now, at least. I didn’t have everything I needed, and Skylar can only spare so many parts and still be functional—which, without you up and about, we need him to be—so I may need to put you out later on to make a few adjustments, but—”
“Professor, wait,” Maricossa said, slowly raising himself from the pillows again. Skylar can only spare so many parts? He tried to swallow, but his mouth and throat had suddenly gone completely dry. His voice came out as a raspy croak. “What are you talking about?”
The Professor hesitated and dropped his eyes, as if regretting his words. “I’m—I’m very sorry, Maricossa.”
Maricossa looked down at the pillow beside him, and the cloth that covered it. The outline of a complete hand underneath the fabric reassured him at first, but as he thought about Professor’s words again a horrible feeling settled into the pit of his stomach.
With his left hand, he reached over and pulled the cloth away to look at his hand.
It was made of metal.