Part 31 – What Remains
Guldwych Ryme was torn between his intense need for comfort and pressing desire to live. The one had him clutching his blanket and the other stinking with sweat. Chem’s visit and scorn had ignited something new in the professor. Lying on the bunk across from him, barely six handspans away, was Tosser. She lay fully stretched out with her feet resting on the wall by the top of the door. She shifted to place one large fist under her cheek and gazed at him curiously.
“The captain’s not going to off you just for being a bit ill,” she said reassuringly, “you’d have to be seriously unwell. You know – spitting up Bellytoads or something. Even then we’d probably just lock you in a cabin until we could find a nice deserted spot. Everyone gets wing sick at first. Why, we had one lad, what was his name… Temblethey, Twomas? Temas. He spent the first week bent over a wing spraying the crops. Course, it turned out he actually had Gasclian Revolt. That was a shame, seemed like a nice lad when he wasn’t retching. Him we had to put down. That’s what this part is-” Tosser indicated the taut spiral tattoo that ran from the tip of her right elbow into what might have been an unfurling leaf “- mercy. You’ve got to have mercy. Anyway – you’re not ill like that are you Ryme?”
Guldwych stared at her. He didn’t yet know her well enough to judge if that was a threat or just another rambling story of the kind she’d amiably filled their cabin with since he came aboard. Knocker and Tosser had been the friendliest towards him by far. Considering he’d known Eslie Chem longer than any of the others he had been disappointed to find that he didn’t know the man at all. With an eye for his survival over all else, he embraced a path of caution.
“No, no I’m not.” He tugged the blanket off and sat up. After a moment he swung his legs off the bunk and carefully folded his blanket into a fat triangle and placed it neatly on the pillow.
“You’re right Tosser. I’m perfectly well thank you, and it would be a comfort to know that the captain knows it too.”
“Great – I’ve got a job for you, ” With a grin Tosser was on her feet, wrapping her seemingly endless hair into a tight knot at the back of her head, “come with me.”
Standing she filled the tiny cabin, forcing Ryme to gesture ‘after you’ while crouching back onto his bunk. He followed Tosser down the narrow corridor and into the brightness of The Sky Viper’s deck. Ryme remembered to clip himself onto the lifeline before Tosser turned to remind him. Ryme felt quite proud of himself, and the beaming grin of her approval certainly did no harm to his self-esteem.
The rectangular deck was packed with boxes, bags and crates. All taken, Ryme assumed from the recently raided Golden Zephyr. He couldn’t imagine where they were going to put it all. It looked worse than the detritus Traverstorm had left in the university common room when he returned from the Far Colonies.
Tosser spread her arms wide and bellowed, “bounty!” to a chorus of laughs. Ryme noticed Chall and Eslie Chem seated on the narrow brass railing that encircled the wingship’s deck with their backs to the wind sharing a thin rubber-capped bottle between them.
“I’m so glad to see you feeling better,” declared Eslie as he drew the glass pipette from the bottle and carefully squeezed a single drop onto his tongue. He twisted the pipette back into the bottle and handed it to Chall, who dispensed a drop for himself.
Eslie heaved himself off the rail and swaggered over to Ryme, his lifeline twitching like a tail behind him, “Adjusted to the sky life yet, Guldwych?”
Ryme almost flinched at Chem’s tone and the nasty curl of his lips. “Hello Eslie, I’m feeling much better thank you.”
He avoided looking over the rail behind Chem. Their altitude, witnessed again might just unhinge his stomach. With more resolution than he felt, Ryme squeezed a casual smile at Chem and turned to Tosser.
“Right, this is all stuff off the Zephyr. Most of it we know what to do with,” Chall rattled his rings against the little bottle in muted salute, “but this lot – well, even Chem don’t know what it is.”
“Why don’t you just ask the crew?”
“Ah, well there is no crew anymore, ” Ryme could feel Eslie’s smirk boring into the back of his head, “wasn’t just Irmleigh who went to the sands Guldwych.”
Had Ryme been sitting in his comfortable office he would have made appropriate sympathetic noises at such news, and inside he would have felt little. Now that he was standing over the property of dead men he was no more struck by pity. It wasn’t his fault they were dead. Obviously this Flame and Irmleigh had some history. Given their lifestyles it was guaranteed to end violently. Why take responsibility for that, or for the dead man’s crew?
Ryme ignored Chem and crouched down to look in the crate Tosser had opened. The outside was scorched, almost obscuring Meridional University’s coat of arms. The ‘Do Not Open’ labels had been disregarded. Inside were phials and jars sunk into a mass of shredded paper. Ryme plucked one out. On reading the label he almost dropped it in shock.
“These must not be opened – these are exceptionally dangerous. Why were they even on the Zephyr?”
“Well, they probably nicked them off someone professor,” said Tosser “where do you think we got them?”
“I mean, these are from the university’s poisons vault. These are Vileteeth. They should have been impossible to steal.”
“Nothing’s impossible to steal Guldwych, ” retorted Chem with a snarl, “everything can be taken – pride, poison, lives…”
Ryme looked properly at the bottle in Chem’s hand. “What is that you’re drinking?”
Chall spat on the deck.
His tooth slid across the planks, leaving a trail of bloody saliva.
Chall yawned wide with a rattle of falling teeth. Chem laughed and spat out his own teeth, then joined Chall in showing off the curling fangs emerging from their bloody gums.
“This is just what the doctor ordered”.
Coming Soon: Part 32 – Taking Stock