For a few seconds Derek couldn't move. He sat there as Clooney moaned in pain. Just sat there, fascinated by the bloody wound on his back, and the generous amounts of blood spreading on the deck. He couldn't call for help. He couldn't do anything but watch.
“Dammit!” Joshua yelled, snapping Derek back himself. “They got a boat!”
Derek instinctively looked toward the back of the ship. The crew ran this way and that, in a chaos that reminded Derek of The Great Foundry. They were already a good distance away from the island, but now there was a pure milky white ship chasing after them. It was much smaller then the Bright Side, but had two large guns pointing forward on it's deck. The left gun fired, sending a shock wave through the water around it. It missed the ship by inches and sent a column of water splashing onto the deck. Derek was soaked.
The chill of the water got him focused again. He had to help Clooney. He crawled over to him, but there was little he could do. His hands were still tied, so he couldn't move him, and he didn't know anything about bandaging wounds.
The bullet had hit Clooney in the back and gone strait through. It was very gory, but Derek didn't flinch. He'd seen men get horrible wounds in The Great Foundry all the time. Although no one he could remember had gotten inured this badly and lived.
The pursuing ship fired again, and missed again, sending another wave of water over the deck. It mixed with Clooney's blood, giving it a red tint.
“How bad is he hurt?” Derek looked up and saw Joshua's unnatural green eye staring down at him.
“I don't know, pretty bad,” Derek responded.
“Well, lets get him to the doc.” Without pausing Joshua picked up the moaning Clooney and dragged him across the deck, towards a stairway that led lower down. “He's owes me money, so I ain't letting him die.”
Derek felt helpless, but got to his feet and following Joshua. “Shouldn't you do something about that ship?”
“Nothing we can do but get every inch of speed out of Brighty that we can and get out of their range,” Joshua said without looking back. “Lucky for us that their gunner is total crap. Anyone with decent aim would have blown us to pieces by now.” He swung around and dropped Clooney back onto the deck with a thud. “Hold out your arms,” he ordered abruptly.
It was such an abrupt order that Derek did so, holding out his bound hands. Joshua whipped the rifle off of his back and, without seeming to take any time to aim, fired at Derek.
Derek instinctively closed his eyes, expecting to be hit. But he wasn't. He opened his eyes and saw that the ropes around his hands had been severed by Joshua's bullet. The smoking ropes fell to the deck. “Thanks,” he said, more surprised then anything.
“Shoulda done that earlier,” Joshua mumbled before continuing to drag Clooney.
Another spray of water came over the deck just as they ducked onto the stairs. It was hellish The lower deck was extremely dark. Crew pushed around, trying to get to there positions, and harsh alarm bells clanged. The smell of Clooney's blood was much more apparent in the dark underground, and it hung over them.
The infirmary was more of a badly lit spare room that had a few beds in it. The stench of death and decay pressed in around Derek as he entered. Many of the beds were already occupied. Most of the men were unconscious, but one was very much awake, screaming at the top of his lungs. The doctor stood over him, trying to keep him quiet.
“This guy takes priority over all others,” Joshua said, rolling Clooney onto an empty bed. “he lives or your pay gets slashed.”
The doctor was a short, hunched man with disproportionately long arms. His face was not attractive. It seemed as if every feature on it had been pulled toward the tip of his incredibly long nose. Thick, round glasses clutched his nose with a death grip, as small, yellowish eyes darted around behind them. “Ye' captain, right away captain,” he said in a anxious and hushed voice.
“Good,” Joshua said flatly and rushed back into the hallway.
The doctor came over to Clooney and started examining his injury. “What's it like up there? Are they going to catch us?”
It took a second for Derek to realize he was asking him. “I don't know. I sure hope not.”
“If they catch us my entire supply of morphine will go to killin' me,” the doctor said. “I advise you to kill yourself too.” It was that moment that Derek realized the doctor's body was covered in the same pink fang marks that Joshua's had.
Derek was unsettled by the doctor's clear cut tone. “I'm not afraid of the White Fleet,” he said, trying to call back his confidence.
“Then you're an idiot,” the doctor said. He motioned for Derek to get out. “Leave me to my work, if you will be so kind.”
Derek left and went back into the dark hallway. Just as he did, there was a muffled explosion and the ship rocked, nearly throwing Derek off his feet.
Another alarm sounded. “The ship is hit! The ship is hit!” a voice crackled over an obviously poorly maintained intercom. “All hands on deck!”
Derek started on the way back to the main deck. The ship pitched back and forth fiercely, and he stumbled going up the stairs. He got up to the deck just in time to be showered with water from another missed shot.
The deck was chaotic. No one seemed to know exactly were the best place to be was, so they simply ran about trying to help. The deck was covered with slippery water. The whole crew was shouting. “Where did we get hit?” “Was it below the water line?” “We need more speed! They're gonna catch us!”
Joshua was the only one who wasn't panicking. “Derek! Get up here!” he yelled down. It took Derek a moment to realize that Joshua was up in his crow's nest tower. “I need your help Derek! Everyone else is busy! Get up here!” he shouted some more.
The crow's nest was a long metal pole with an unstable looking rope ladder clinging to it, and a tiny nest at the top with barely enough room for two men to stand. It was about fifty feet off the deck. Derek gulped.
“Come on now!” Joshua yelled again.
Derek took a breath and started to climb. The ladder was slippery from the waves of water that had crashed onto the deck, and the ship was still pitching back and forth, trying to make him loose his footing. His body was still weak and stretched from his time in the tree, and threatened to give out. But Derek grimly clung to the ladder and smashed through gravity, clawing his way to the top.
The circle of metal that made the crow's nest was barely wide enough for Derek and Joshua to stand on together. Derek clung to the pole for safety, and tried not to look down.
“Take this,” Joshua said, shoving his rifle into Derek's hand.
“What are you giving me this for?” Derek exclaimed, thrown off balance by the rifle's weight. “I'm no sharpshooter!”
“I can't shoot right now! I'll tell you how to aim, just point the gun at the ship!” Joshua ordered. Derek suddenly realized that a series of unnatural spasms was tearing through Joshua's body. His arms lashed out, uncontrolled. “I have a problem! When it comes I can't keep my arms steady enough to shoot strait! Just aim were I tell you and you'll be fine!”
Derek nervously pointed the gun in the general direction of the ship. It was heavy, and the ship's pitching threatened to send him falling back to the deck at any moment. The pursuing ship had to be at least five-hundred yards behind them. Derek wondered if the rifle even had the range to shoot that far.
“Bring the barrel two inches up!” Joshua ordered. His voice was strained, and each time a spasm ran through his body he would cry out softly in pain. Derek did as he said though. “Now down half an inch. Now five inches to the left, now two inches right. A tiny bit down. A bit more... now shoot!”
The order caught Derek off guard, but his finger squeezed around the trigger and sent the bullet flying towards it's target.
He didn't see where the bullet hit. He didn't see it fly into the gunner's knee, and snap his leg in two. He didn't see the gunner, distracted by the pain, fumble as he tried to load a new shell. He didn't see the armed shell land on the ground and roll across the deck. He didn't see the medic, rushing to help the fallen gunner, trip over the shell. He didn't see the detonator flash red.
But he did see the explosion. It rippled up through the small ship, killing a dozen men in an instant. A second later extra shells detonated, setting off a new wave of explosions. When the dust settled, the enemy ship was still floating, but so damaged that it would not be able to pursue them anytime soon.
Derek was stunned for a few moments by what the single bullet had done. He grabbed the pole with one arm to prevent himself from falling. How many people had he just killed? Two dozen? More? Derek felt an immediate strike through him. It seemed so impersonal. When he'd shot Cornwell he'd known that he deserved to die. But this was different. How many innocent men had he killed?
“Dam, you'd better get your wrists looked at,” Joshua remarked, cutting into Derek's thoughts.
“Huh?” Derek was still dazed, but when he looked down at his arms, he saw what Joshua was taking about. They were worn bloody from the cutting ropes that had kept him up in the tree. They burned when Derek touched them.
“Hey, what's that mark on your palm?” Joshua asked. The worst of his spasm seemed to be over.
“I don't have any mark on my...” Derek replied until he looked were Joshua was pointing. In the dead center of his palm there was a hole in the skin exactly one centimeter in diameter. The skin around the hole had turned black.
“Where did you get that?” Joshua asked, urgency in his voice.
“I don't know. What does it matter?”
Joshua held up his palm. In it's center was a hole exactly the same as Derek's. “Looks like we got something in common Derek. I got this when I was a little older then you. When a man in a black cloak stabbed a needle into me.”
“Wait,” Derek was shocked. “A man in a black cloak? I saw something when I was in the woods... I remember a needle...”
Joshua stared at Derek for a long time. His green eye stopped it's constant motion and focused on him. Derek didn't know what to say. The visions that came after the attack, did Joshua see them? Did he know what they meant? Derek didn't dare ask.
“You know what?” Joshua said after an eternity. “I don't do it often, but I think I'll give you passage on my ship free of charge. Just this once.” When Derek remained silence he continued. “We'd better get down from here. My crew will blow themselves up if I don't watch them.”
The ship was no longer pitching back and forth, so the climb down was easier. “Captain!” The tough woman with the shotgun said, saluting as they reached the deck. “Where should we set course for?”
“I don't know,” Joshua said with a sigh. “Clooney wouldn't tell me until he got on the ship. He'd better not die or I'll have no idea where to dump our two passengers. I'm gonna go see him. Get Mr. Derek here and our friend Zoey some quarters. The spare room is always nice.” Without another word he set off to the lower deck.
The woman was tall, with a thin, arrow like body. She had shortish blond hair, that completely uneven and seemed hastily cut, like the style a shaggy man might sport. It had also clearly not been washed for quite some time, and Derek could only imagine the number of bugs that lived in it. Her face was covered in scars and a rock like expression, but it did cling to a ragged kind of... beauty? It was not the kind of pretty little princess beauty that was usually praised. It was something she got from the immense sense of readiness in her eyes. At first glance she looked like a rough and tough person, but something was on the edge of that. Something more worn.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, extending her hand. “I'm Chan, the captain's first mate. Sort of self appointed. You'll be staying with us until we find out where you're going, so I guess you should get a room Sphereboy. Follow me.”
She turned around and started walking. Derek fell into step behind her, but couldn't help asking, “How do you know I'm from The Sphere?”
“You're pale white. It's a clear indicator that you've never seen the sun before a week or two ago.”
“Is it really that obvious?”
“A blind man could figure it out with the way you move. You're very clumsy. Of course, the fleet girl is no better. But you'll be better in a few months of out here.”
“A few months!” Derek exclaimed, stopping in his tracks. “That's not right. You gotta bring me back to The Sphere before then, I can't be out here for months!”
Chan turned around and smiled contemptuously. “I don't think so. You're getting dropped off wherever Clooney is. And I don't think he's from The Sphere. And I don't think he'd take the fleet girl there, even if he was.”
Derek felt desperation and homesickness well up inside of him. He was stranded in the outside world.