SILENCE. The sound of it was loud as Vale and Sky walked down the corridors. The soft click-clack sound of Vale’s thick-soled work boots the only interruption in the deafening, unsettling quiet. Walking with Sky was a unique experience for Vale. No main corridor taken, no large hallway used. Everything was small, cramped, a breath of space between them and hot metal walls covered in must, webs, and mildew. But it was free from prying red eyes and claws that had hours before had attempted to rip Vale’s flesh off.
She glanced up at Sky who stepped over a set of broken pipes, leading the way to a mysterious destination. He had ripped her mechanical arm off not long ago and kept her hidden in a room. He reattached it. He kept me away from the AI’s, she reminded herself, pushing away her nervousness. The close quarters was causing her to get antsy, paranoid.
She didn’t do well with small spaces that made her feel trapped. But between the AI’s and the claustrophobia, she strongly preferred the tight quarters with the boy she didn’t know. Taking a slow deliberate breath, she kept her voice quiet as she asked, “how far?”
Sky held up three fingers. Vale didn’t know if he meant three floors or three minutes or some other combination she hadn’t thought of. Either way, she knew they were getting close. The turns were far more frequent, the engine humming far less loud as they headed in an upwards direction.
They reached a narrow opening that led to a large hallway. Sky poked his head through. A moment later he squeezed the rest of his body through and turned, motioning for her to wait, his ocean blue eyes serious. Then he disappeared before Vale could protest.
Moments ticked by, painfully slow. She adjusted her stance, leaning forward slightly in an attempt to see into the hallway he had vanished into. Buttons blinked brightly along the opposite wall, sending a hue of ever dancing light around the hall.
One neon green light sent a wave of nostalgia through Vale as she thought of her house and the terrible bright green roof that her mother had painted. She missed her mom and wondered what she was doing right then. Is she okay? Vale pushed away the guilt that hit her. She should have said goodbye before she ran off but knew her mother would have tried to talk her out of it.
She heard a loud buzz ripping her from her thoughts as the hallway went suddenly dark. Vale moved back, pressing herself against one of the walls, torn between trying to find Sky and staying still like he recommended.
Two full minutes went by and a chilling cold settled over the once warm hallway. Vale wrapped her arms around herself trying to keep the cold away as it began to settle deep into her bones. Her metal arm worked against the warmth, making her once again hate that she was stuck with such a frustrating mechanical irritation.
Soon, claustrophobia and the need to move to get warm won over and she scrambled out into the large hallway.
Vale couldn’t see anything around her, surrounded by an inky blackness that was thick and cold. She heard a strange clang to her left and scrambled back and right into a pair of warm arms. Two warm hands gently touched her shoulders, steadying her.
“Sky?” she asked, startled by the sudden warmth that melted into her skin. He gave her shoulders a single squeeze to confirm, then he slowly ran his hands down her shoulders until he reached her hands. Picking up her right wrist, he opened her palm and traced it lightly, sending flames across her skin with his gentle touch.
It took her a moment to realize he was trying to communicate with her. Cold, he spelled out. “Yes,” Vale said when she recovered her ability to speak.
Sky placed something over her shoulders and helped her wrestle her hands into thick jacket sleeves that she couldn’t see. She blindly reached out and snapped the metal buttons closed on the jacket feeling instant relief as the cold was shut off from her upper body. He reached for her cold hand again and traced another word across her palm. Better.
She knew it was a question and quickly nodded, then remembering he couldn’t see her. She cleared her throat. “Yes,” Vale replied, feeling suddenly self-conscious with his hand still holding hers. He wrapped his strong fingers around her wrist and tugged her forward down the hallway.
She stumbled blindly after him, trusting that he would keep her from hitting anything too large. After a moment, her eyes began to adjust to the darkness. They reached a set of stairs and climbed. Before Vale had fully taken in the view of the new floor, Sky ducked behind a set of large boxes pulling Vale in behind him. They crouched as three AI’s came into view.
These were different than others Vale had encountered. Far more advanced and looked almost human in the darkness. Metal exteriors with human curves. They moved elegantly down the hallway, walking with as much grace as humen dancers. Their fingers were long and slender. Vale looked down at her metal hand, flexing her fingers, and glanced back up to the AI’s. They look like me.
Sky turned Vale’s right palm face-up, tracing again. Dangerous, he spelled and motioned to the AI’s. Vale nodded back at him. The AI’s scanned the hallway with dark glowing purple eyes. Far more unsettling in their metal-framed skulls than the other AI’s. These looked far more capable of killing.
Vale had a hundred questions but wouldn’t dare vocalize them with the AI’s so close. She couldn’t tell how well their hearing was and didn’t trust herself to be quiet enough to go unnoticed. Sky’s tense posture told her how serious the threat was and forced herself to take slow, silent breaths.
The AI’s passed them, and after they turned the corner at one end of the hallway, Sky stood and pulled Vale down the hallway in the opposite direction. He ran, moving with far less caution than Vale had come to expect from him. They turned the corner and dashed to a large door.
Sky stopped next to a keypad and after scrambling through his bag, pulled out a small contraption that he attached to the keypad. The keypad buzzed after several long chirps and the door swung open.
Sky grabbed the gadget, ran inside, and after Vale was through the door, he turned and slammed it shut, pulling down a large barricade lock to keep anyone from opening the door from the other side.
Vale turned around and took in the room. “The bridge.” The room was huge. A large unmanned wheel sat at the center. A set of large screens sat to the far left and a set of windows two stories tall enveloped the front of the bridge. Sky made his way over to the screens and began to hit a set of buttons that made the screens blare to life.
Vale walked to the front of the bridge and got her first look out at the sky since arriving on the ship. She had assumed it was daytime until she took in the blanket of stars that were sprinkled across the horizon. She placed her hands against the glass, feeling a sense of loss. “I hope you are all okay,” she whispered as she stared into the darkness.
She thought of Captain Mortem, Boomer, Sparrow, and the others that had fallen from The Libertatem. Did they make it onto the Skymaran’s? She needed to know. She felt Sky’s sea-blue eyes on her back and turned to look at him. “Do you know if any of my crew made it?”
Sky’s eyes grew soft and he nodded, motioning to the screens. She didn’t realize she was moving until she reached Sky, stopping next to him, staring up at the screens, waiting for any sign of life.
Vale watched as he played the footage of The Libertatem being crushed, shattering like glass against an immovable object. She gasped as she watched herself fly off the crow’s nest and disappear into the rubble, tucked away from the footage. “That’s why they don’t know I’m here,” she uttered. “The footage makes it look like I fell.”
Vale kept watching and saw Mortem throwing members of his injured crew towards unmanned skymaran’s. He continued to dash across the falling pieces of his ship, faster than Vale had ever seen him move, a wild look of concentration on his face as he helped every crew member that was trapped or left behind.
He got a total of ten people off the ship before he lost his footing and began to fall, sliding in between two broken planks. “No,” Vale croaked as she watched him grip one of the planks, stalling his fall.
He struggled to keep his grip but the plank broke apart in his hands and he fell, through the clouds and out of sight. Vale continued to stare at the screen, waiting for him to appear, to fly back up through the clouds like the man who had always been able to do the impossible.
But the clouds remained undisturbed, hiding the chaos that had fallen through them, swallowing the deaths as they fell into the water below, washing away all proof of life. Vale fell to her knees, eyes still on the screen. “Captain,” she gasped. He’s gone. Captain Mortem is dead.