Sky was sleeping, his face growing to match a light shade of grey with each passing hour. He had just enough energy to give Vale a basic understanding of the controls and then passed out. After playing around with several of his gadgets, she found one that had a glitchy map. The screen would dim and then flicker to life every so often, but it was enough to point her in the right direction.
The skymaran was now heading south, six days away from the closest landmass. Will he make it? She wasn’t sure. Will the AI’s be looking for us? There was no doubt. The skymaran seemed capable of moving without much guidance once a destination was set. So she set about doing the one thing she had been avoiding, setting her leg. Ripping the material that made up her pant leg, she tore the material into strips and then slowly hoping around the skymaran, looking for something to work as a brace.
After finding four long metal plates, two to be used for her shin, and two for her thigh, she placed several pieces of fabric into her mouth to keep her screaming to a minimum. After wrapping a long wire around her waist to keep herself upright, she grabbed her leg and jolted, moving it back in place. The pain causing her to pass out. Once conscious, Vale removed the wire and after twenty minutes of painful work, got a makeshift brace made.
Vale found dried food tucked away into a crate in the corner of the skymaran and quickly ripped into a pack of dried meat, enjoying the small pleasure of something familiar as she sat isolated in the middle of the sea.
Then after finding a jug of water, she allowed herself several swallows of the precious item. Transforming her metal arm into a long cane, Vale stood and wobbled over to Sky’s bag, curious to see if there was anything else in there that would be useful.
Gears, wires, and small gadgets made up most of the bad. Her fingers grazed a soft gentle fabric, spiking her curiosity. It wasn’t tech. And had been carefully placed at the bottom of the bag. The fabric was raveled around a small item. Pulling it out, she unwrapped it and found a worn, leather notebook. She opened it to a random page and began to read...
I tried again today. I think that makes this attempt... 25? Honestly, I’ve started to lose count. I made it as far as starting up the skymaran before hyperventilating. The AI’s don’t even bother guarding the deck anymore. They know I’m too terrified to leave. They’ve turned me into an agoraphobe, teaching me to be my own guard, my own prison warden. Why guard a man who has no drive to run? They might as well have handed me the keys to my own jail cell.
But I can’t let them define who I am. I will find a way to break this. To get out of here. To warn the people on the list of the dangers...
Vale slammed the journal shut, embarrassed that she had intruded on such a private moment of Sky’s life. She looked down at the sleeping boy, suddenly understanding his panic. He had been afraid to leave. He built the skymaran and by the time he was done, he was too afraid to leave.
Sky’s eyes remained closed and after several hours, of waiting for a change, Vale’s curiosity won out, needing a distraction of watching him grow worse, and she opened the journal again, reading another entry...
A girl with night hair saw me. It was strange being seen by human eyes. I mistook her for a bird at first. Her raven-colored hair blew wildly in the wind. Looking like it was on the verge of taking flight. But after another look, it was a girl. Beautiful, and free. How can she stand so high and not look the least bit afraid?
Vale traced her finger over the word beautiful, feeling her face bloom red. He thinks I’m beautiful? She turned the page...
The girl with night hair fell onto the ship. Her metal arm mangled. Like a bird shot down mid-flight. The AI’s found Mortem and destroyed an entire crew to kill him. But the girl is alive. I took off her arm before it could set her on fire. It hurt but I think she’ll understand it was to save her life. I had to, or else the AI’s would have found her. And she would have fallen, crashing into the water below. And I don’t believe this night raven bird is meant to end that way.
Vale read another entry, ignoring the way her heart changed its rhythm...
The girl with night hair has a name. Vale. She keeps demanding that I talk. That I give her answers. She thinks I’m like them. But she can’t sign. And I haven’t had a chance to explain why I can’t answer. At least not in the way she wants. I’ll have to take a screen next time. I’ll write. She’ll understand how much danger she’s in then. She’ll understand that I’m not being rude. Or trying to hide things. She’ll understand. She has to.
Tears filled Vale’s eyes and she closed the journal, wrapping it back up in cloth and placing it back in the bag. She turned to see Sky watching her. He looked from her to his bag, hurt flashing across his face. “I’m sorry,” Vale said. “I would say I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did. I was curious.”
A muscle worked in Sky’s jaw. His normally open, unfiltered eyes were closed off, guarded. He motioned for his bag. She brought it over. He pulled out a small book and chucked it up to her. She read the front. ”Beginners Guide to Sign.”
He made a gesture, waiting for her to open the book and look for it. Don’t. He made another set of motions, waiting for her to find the answers. Skip. His eyes were ablaze by the time he finished the final set. Steps.
Sky’s brow rose. Don’t skip steps. He signed a much longer sentence, waiting as she quickly moved through the pages trying to understand his words. My heart is not something to be read, analyzed, and discovered without my consent.
After looking through the book, and several failed attempts she responded, signing, I’m sorry.
Sky sighed, looking tired. Vale brought over a dried pack of meat and a jug of water. “Here.” Sky took it, signed a thank you but didn’t look up at Vale. He ate, his eyes distant as he stared up at the clouds.
Vale slowly settled herself across from him and crossed her arms, needing to fix things, even if the thought of opening up was terrifying. “I think that it’s only fair that since I learned things about you that were not for my eyes, that I should share a few things with you that would otherwise remain unknown.” Sky continued to look up, but she knew he was listening. Taking a deep breath she began.
“I know my way around wounds.” Sky looked at her, his eyebrows rose, curious as he waited for her to continue. She bit her lip, not wanting to think about her mother, but knew it was time to share, especially if they continued to get into dicey situations.
“My mom... she used to box in an underground fighting ring.” Flashes of memories of her mother, moving at frightening speeds, her arms raised, her punches wild, taking down opponents in ten seconds flat. She had earned herself the nickname Dime. It never took her more than ten seconds to defeat anyone she went up against. Her short brown hair glistening with sweat.
She still couldn’t believe her mother took her to the fights. But then again it wasn’t like she could keep her at home alone when she was five.
“Fighting is illegal for humans. She would fight in mixed gendered competitions, Krav Mega, boxing, you name it, she knew how to do it.” Vale looked down at her leg. “When I was old enough to stitch up a wound, I was put on nurse duty, always patching her up enough so she could get back out there for the next fight.” Vale swallowed, memories of her small shaking hands working through flesh as her mother tried to assure her that the bleeding would stop once the wound was patched up. “I think I was around six when I started. She couldn’t afford to go to an AI doctor. She’d get reported.”
She glanced up and saw Sky watching her, his eyes unreadable. “It’s funny, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s how she rebelled. Fought for her sense of freedom. I didn’t know how unhappy she was with the status quo. I didn’t know she fought to feel something. Fought because it was her choice. Not one made by machines. A job she was good at, even if it was illegal.” Vale flexed her metal fingers. They no longer bothered her, having gone from feelings of frustration to feelings of awe when she stared down at them. Powerful.
“She taught me a bit so I could defend myself.” Vale leaned back on her elbows. “I didn’t know why. What was out there to fight?” She laughed without humor. “Everything is dangerous now.”
Sky tilted his head to the side, processing her words. His hands came up, painting out words with a delicate grace that she had come to know. Vale watched, opening the book, following each phrase, writing down his words until she could piece them all together.
The system is nearly flawless. They make you feel like everyone around you is happy. Like you are the only one who feels like something is missing. So you think it’s your fault. That you are the problem. So you stay quiet. You stay alone, not realizing that everyone else is alone too. They have created an isolated system.
Sky nodded towards the bag. How much did you read?
Vale hugged her good leg, feeling her face fill with color again. “The first time you saw me.” Vale smiled down at the ground. “How you compared me to a bird.” Beautiful and free. “When I landed on the ship and you saved me from getting set on fire. How I thought you were being rude when you didn’t talk to me.”
She peaked up at Sky. Anything else? he asked.
Vale kept her gaze on Sky as she answered, wanting to see his reaction to her invasion of his private moment. “Your 25th attempt.”
Sky’s hands dropped to his lap, speechless. “I’m so sorry Sky,” Vale said looking down. “I had no idea...” Her words trailed off. “But you made it. You’re off the ship. Free.”
Until I die, he signed. I’m dying, aren’t I? Your face tells me what your words won’t. Body language is far more telling than any set of words.
“We are going to get you help,” Vale said rolling her hands into fists.
That’s not an answer.
“It’s the only answer that matters.”
What do I have?
“Damaged coronary artery.” Sky nodded, his eyes dimming slightly. “I don’t take it you can rebuild your heart with all those mechanical skills you have can you?”
Sky thought about it, which surprised Vale. She assumed it was far beyond his reach. It was common practice for AI doctors to reconstruct most parts of the human body. But she didn’t know he had that level of knowledge.
It’s technically illegal. Besides, I can’t operate on myself.
He cracked a grin at Vale’s slacked jawed reaction. “Can you walk someone through the process?”
I’d have you do it if I had the right tools. But none of these things are quite right and you don’t want to put something inside of you that could cause further damage.
“Would my arm work?”
He leveled her with a stare. No.
He relented. Fine. Yes. But I refuse. It will take me a long time to recover and one of us has to be a lookout. You are the muscle. Can’t take away your arm without making both of us vulnerable. We are on their list now. There’s no coming back from that. They will hunt us down like... He stopped mid-motion, looking embarrassed.
“Like Mortem,” Vale finished. She stood up and walked over to the skymaran. “Okay. Fine. I’ll let it go for now.” She stared down at the controls. “We need to fix this Sky. We need to fix the system. Everyone out there is stuck, trapped, thinking something is wrong with themselves.”
She turned to look at him. “Now how do we get this thing to go faster?”