“He’s gone?” The words felt empty, unreal as they fell from Vale’s mouth and hit the ground with a thud. The weight of the words was painful, too real, too raw, too impossible to believe even with the visual proof she had seen.
“He can’t...” her words trailed off. She ripped her eyes from the screen and turned to look at Sky. “Is there a way to see below the clouds? Maybe he found a way to grab onto something.”
He shook his head, his bright sky eyes unreadable as he watched Vale deflate. She ran her fingers through her long ink-black hair and bit back a sob. “He threatened to throw me over the side of the ship several times...”
Life had a way of being cruel. Of taking words that had meant to be a terrifying reminder of what fate could do to you and turn it on its head, throwing someone else into death instead and then forcing you to watch it play out. Strong arming you into watching the stronger, the braver the less worthy of death fall first while you sit and wonder why life took pity on you and took away someone who made the world so much better than you ever could.
“I never thought I’d outlive him,” Vale whispered.
Sky raised a brow, clearly confused by the mention of her being threatened overboard on numerous occasions. Vale gave an empty laugh. “Captain Mortem was...” the past tense of the word strangled her vocal cords, changing her voice into something unrecognizable. “... a man that demanded bravery.”
She forced herself to her feet and moved to the window, sliding back down with her hip pressed against the cold glass, allowing the sky to fill her view, wanting to be closer to the ones she lost. “He expected the best from his crew. I... snuck on board and after he threatened to throw me overboard for it, he let me stay when I offered to be the lookout.” Vale smiled to herself. “If I hadn’t spotted the first lightning storm before the weather GPS I wouldn’t be here.”
She didn’t know why she told Sky about her short-lived journey as a lightning seeker, but she wanted to honor Mortem’s memory. And expressing a piece of his unwavering bravery seemed appropriate. “He should have outlived all of us,” Vale said closing her eyes and leaning her head against the glass.
She sensed Sky as he sat down across from her. She opened her eyes to find him looking at her. He searched her face, unspoken words flickering across his strong features. Sky glanced down at her hands and after some hesitation, he picked up her right hand in his. Her fingers looked so small in his. He traced letters into her open palm, his eyes gentle, soft, and full of understanding. Sorry.
Vale ignored the grief that tried to swallow her whole, the soft tenderness that threatened to break her wavering resolve with his one gentle word. She was having a hard time being strong, unbreakable when everything was falling apart. “Thank you,” she said so quietly that she was surprised when he nodded, having heard her nearly inaudible response.
Clearing her throat, Vale stood up, pulling her hand away. She needed to keep moving. To find a way off of a ship crawling with AI’s that wanted her dead. “You said you had proof for me?” She asked, keeping her eyes on the stars.
Sky walked over to the screens again and motioned for her to come stand next to him. She watched his hands work in a fast blur as his fingers tapped away commands that brought lines of code across the screens. He pointed to a screen on the far left where he wrote a set of words for her to read.
We don’t have much time before the head AI’s come back. I created a mechanical problem that should take them five hours to fix, but we need to be out of here far before they make their way back.
“But don’t you fix mechanical problems?”
Not ship related. Just AI-related. They are worried about navigation sabotage. The pannel I tampered with is quite old. They will most likely view it as an expiration problem, not something I caused.
Sky continued working, his eyes scanning the screens as images and code flickered across, brows scrunched in concentration, giving Vale a chance to take him in more openly. His long straight gold hair fell around his face, framing his strong jaw. She noticed a set of ink markings along his neck, a stark contrast against his light skin. It wove along the curve of his neck, behind his ear, and disappeared under his white shirt, leaving Vale to wonder what design made up the tapestry of his shoulders and back.
He wore a thick brown leather jacket over his white shirt that was covered in splotches of what Vale could only guess were grease and oil and a pair of brown pants that were tucked into a pair of thick black boots.
A tool belt sat low on his hips with a collection of wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, a tape measurer, and duct tape all attached, ready to be used. The mere fact that the belt didn’t just fall off from the sheer heaviness of the items it held seemed like a miracle to Vale. Her eyes traveled back up his arms, across his chest and up to his face, only to find him looking at her.
His lips quirked up at the corners, a hint of amusement twinkled in his light eyes, the first smile that Vale had seen on Sky’s face since meeting him. “What?” Vale asked doing her best not to look like a child with her hand caught in a cookie jar.
He didn’t need to communicate any words, allowing his smile to grow slightly in response to the light pink that suddenly filled Vale’s complexion. He turned to fully face her and crossed his arms, his hip pressed against the keyboard table underneath the screens. Vale cocked her head to the side. “What?” she said again, in challenge, pretending not to be aware that she got caught gawking at him while he worked. He held her gaze, making her heart race as her embarrassment grew.
His smile grew wider until it lit up his face, breaking the steady tension that made up this mysterious boy that Vale knew so little about. He closed his eyes, his blond lashes sparking with color against his cheeks as he shook his head. Opening his eyes, he laughed silently, his eyes bright.
“Haha,” Vale said dryly with an eye roll, trying to make light of the sudden uptick of her heartbeat. Crossing her arms she looked away, annoyed by the unwanted attention. “Can we get back to the thing you wanted to show me before the AI’s show up and kill us both?”
Sky’s eyes were still light with laughter as he nodded, giving her one last amused glance before turning back to the screens. He typed something out for her to read.
It’s downloading. Until then if you want me to spin in a circle so you can have a better view...
Vale’s jaw dropped. “That isn’t... that won’t be necessary.” She ducked her head down, looking at her worn boots, on the verge of running out the door and taking her chances with the AI’s.
She looked back up at the screen when she heard Sky typing again and the words she saw turned her entire body bright red.