A.M. Dellamonica is at it again! The thrilling adventures of Gale Feliachild and Captain Parrish continue in a series of prequel stories that offers to take us deeper into the fascinating world of Stormwrack.
When Gale and the crew of the Nightjar are called back to the fleet to handle an issue involving a law regulating new patents and a missing magical inscription, they soon find themselves embroiled in a plot that is could potentially pit island against island. Now, they must discover the mystery of the glass galago before time runs out for both it and the fleet.
The taxikite banked as it approached Constitution, wheeling in an arc that encompassed it and two other great ships of the Fleet of Nations. Temperance led the formation, sharkskin hull slick and seawet, decks staffed by sinewy, heavily-armed veterans. Her figurehead wore a necklace of blood pearls, over a hundred of them, one red bead for every vessel she had ever sunk.
Breadbasket, to her starboard side, was three times larger but far less martial, clad in the greenery of her abovedeck park and towing a skirt of grain barges that bobbed in the sea as their crops ripened. Her masts were living trees, sheathed in sails of spidersilk. Aft, her serpentine tail rippled sinuously, providing a boost to propulsion as well as steerage.
Behind the triad of lead ships were hundreds more. Sails of canvas, silk, woven reed, and even fur snapped in the wind; the seagoing city was making a leisurely crossing of the southern deeps, as it did every year, before hurricane season. Ferries darted between the big vessels. Kites circled above, wheeling raptors with fares their prey.
Their kite bounced a little, the struts of its wings flexing as the driver caught a last gust of wind, gliding down to Constitution‘s landing deck. He got the door open smartly, bowing to the young sailor seated beside Gale Feliachild.
“Charge the Courier Service for the ride,” Gale said, giving the driver a government chit and nudging her first mate out of the taxi.
“Fair weather, Kir,” he said, answering as if Parrish had spoken. He pocketed the chit and, by way of a complicated manipulation of the kite’s ribs, rearranged its silky orange wings into a flaccid balloon. Throwing back his head, he breathed fire into the apparatus, inflating it. He would be aloft again in minutes.
“Been aboard her before, Mister Parrish?” Her first mate was having a look around Constitution, taking advantage of the height of the cab pad.
“At Graduation, yes.”
Temperance had been built to terrify, Breadbasket to comfort and nurture. Constitution, meanwhile, was dressed in the formalities of governance: white rails, gleaming decks, smartly lettered signs, and a flag for every island nation represented by the Fleet Convene. The ship was steeped in quiet importance. Its lifeblood was information, borne by the uniformed messengers trotting everywhere.
One young officer who’d been sprinting after their cab stopped short before them. Parrish drew attention wherever he went: he had a sensual beauty that brought stares from people of every age. But this woman wasn’t flirting. If anything, she seemed shocked.
“Fair morning, Septer Birch,” Parrish said.
The woman pushed on, silent, her jaw set.
“Not a friend, I take it?” Gale asked. Perhaps Parrish had broken her heart. He couldn’t be as pure as he seemed.
“We served together, before I was discharged from the Fleet.”
“I’d meant to get that story from you by now.” The captain of Gale’s personal sailing vessel, Nightjar, had tapped young Parrish to be his successor. She was in the first stage of getting to know him. But the seas on their last journey had been bad. Long nights at the ropes, turbulent seas, and howling winds: there had been regrettably little quiet, no time for conversation.
“I’d meant to share it.” To her surprise, he laughed. “I’ve worked out why you were so fussy about my clothes. You want to be taken for my servant.”
“I don’t fuss.” She’d got him several tailored outfits: doublets and breeches, black with copper embroidery at the collar. They were expensive, suggestive of wealth and power. Gale herself was clad in nondescript grey. “Besides, people stare at you however you’re dressed.”
“And ignore you regardless.”
That was true. In childhood, her parents had her enchanted—cursed, really—so that people found her unremarkable and hard to remember. It was the next best thing to being invisible.
“Be grateful you’re in black, Parrish; with that lovely dark skin of yours, I considered red with gold trim.”
“The better to sell me to a circus?”
“Depending on price,” she said. “Do you mind?”
“People do stare anyway.” Which wasn’t precisely an answer.
“We could get you a cloak with a nice deep hood, some kind of mask for contagion.”
“No.” A thread too much weight in his voice, as he refused even her whimsical suggestion of aid.
She reached out to snag a passing messenger, a uniformed child of perhaps fourteen. “We’re looking for Convenor Gracechild.”
“The government is in debate, Kirs; it may be an all-nighter.”
Gale handed over her card. “When they break, give her this.” He bowed and ran off.
“Now what?” Parrish asked.
“Try her office, of course.” She led him belowdecks, into the bureaucratic warren of the government at sea.
Annela’s secretary had once commanded an ambulance crew, and Gale had never seen her flustered. But as they came in, she clapped the hatch shut behind them, her movements jerky.
She saw Parrish, and—naturally enough—froze.
Gale let her take a good look at him, with his handsome, sensitive face, his lush lips and good clothes. Only after the secretary had caught her breath did Gale slap down a box of wine-soaked dates from Zingoasis. The dates were one of those questionable local delicacies. They tasted all right… once you got past the smell of pickled dung.
As the aroma worked its way through the outer office, Gale could see the secretary go through the usual reactions: surging revulsion, first, then an effort to cover disgust. Gale could almost hear her thinking: These again, why me, why does everyone keep giving me these revolting confections? Well, maybe it isn’t everyone, just our one horrid kinswoman…
Being unmemorable forced you to get inventive.
“Kir Feliachild!” the secretary said, falsely bright as she made the connection.
“It’s Gale, Bettona—”
Clattering interrupted her.
Something shiny dropped from a curtained portal to the desk, wrestling the wax seals on the box.
“Is that a galago?” Gale asked. It was a small primate, with tiny hands and big eyes. But it had been enchanted: its skin was leathery but transparent, its fur composed of clear shards. Within, where its organs should have been, she could see dense blobs of colored light. Its brain shimmered pink-gray through the hard glass of its skull; a crimson glow throbbed in its chest.
“Careful, it’s wild—” the secretary said, but Parrish had taken the dates. He held out his hand, rock steady. The animal climbed on him, cooing hopefully.
“May I?” Parrish asked, flipping open the box and intensifying the smell of camel waste. The thing chirped.
“Small pieces, no pits,” Bettona instructed. “Its teeth are delicate.”
“Since when does Annela keep oddities?” Gale asked.
The secretary shook her attention off of Parrish, who had smeared date onto his index finger. The galago licked it off; once in its mouth, the fruit vaporized into caramel-colored smoke and moved foggily toward its gut.
“The glass galago’s tied to the current debate in the Convene. There’s a woman from the Patents Office in the same condition.”
“A woman, turned to glass?”
Bettona nodded. “The inscription’s been stolen; there’s no way to restore her. She may die.”
“Would there be a briefing in Annela’s inner office, by any chance?”
Bettona nodded. “She had me prepare it yesterday.”
Gale led the way into her kinswoman’s sanctum, finding the report atop her papers.
“There’s a hairline crack between its toes.” Parrish sat on a low couch, mashing more date for the galago. It nibbled, wide-eyed, seeming every bit as enchanted with her first mate as everyone else.
“It’s not magic, is it, Parrish?”
“Your stunning good looks.”
“No, I’m not scripped.” He stroked the creature behind its ear. So young: she felt her doubts about him swelling. Could she hand her ship and the safety of her people over to a boy? “The crack’s small, but it will spread. And here’s another.”
“Living beings aren’t meant to be turned to glass. Does that surprise you?” She paged through the report. “This is all happening as the Convene debates whether Patents needs to be more heavily regulated.”
“If magical inscriptions can simply go missing, maybe they do need more regulation.”
“Don’t be naïve, Parrish—the issue might be debatable, but the situation with the glass woman has been contrived to force the vote.”
“Understood.” The galago had apparently eaten enough: it was playing with Parrish’s buttons. “Who benefits from more rules?”
She flipped pages. “Anyone with a body of well-established spells and a fat treasury. Patents is already a difficult and expensive process. Increased regulation will make it harder on small suppliers and innovators.”
“Says Kir Gracechild?”
“Do you have another expert in your pocket?” Gale said.
“I meant no disrespect.”
“But you dislike politicians on principle.” She’d figured out that much about him.
“You’d like me to withhold judgment until I meet her?”
“Seems fair, doesn’t it?”
The concession was good-natured. “Yes.”
“Nella says this particular wrangle will pit big island interests against little ones, hurting those still working to build up their magical economies.”
“She wants you to find the inscription?”
“I’d say it’s the obvious place to start.”
After Parrish had caged the galago for the beleaguered secretary, they went to have a nose around the Patents office. They had barely left when Gale saw they were being followed.
“This’d be your fault, Parrish.” She pointed out their shadow.
He smiled—he knew she wasn’t serious. “What do you want to do?”
“She can’t follow us both. I’ll loop to starboard, pretend I’m off to check on the Convene. How about you find some excuse to loiter up there, by the Virtue of Cooperation?” She indicated the statue with the barest flick of an eyebrow. “I’ll come up behind her.”
“What if she goes after you?”
“Same game, different leader.”
He nodded assent—reluctantly, she thought.
“Relax, cub, nobody’s going to be knives-out on Constitution.” With a servant’s bow, she peeled off.
She knew what was eating at Parrish. The reason her parents had Gale scripped as unmemorable in the first place was that prophets, back home, had predicted she would one day be murdered.
But the person skulking along after them was no killer. Her relaxed posture said civilian: her coat was expensive but tattered. She had no idea Gale had fallen behind.
Constitution‘s decks were busy; Gale bulled her way through the throng as Parrish paused to study the statue.
The stranger reached into her coat, striding to catch up. Like that, Parrish caught her by the wrist.
“Careful, Kir,” he said.
“Steady, beautiful—I just want to show you my press tag.” She pulled it out, a thin curl of mother of pearl, cut into a stylized horn.
“Langda Pyke,” Gale read. “From Foghorn, no less. Well, Langda, this is a novelty, if not an honor. What is it you hoped to glean by following us?”
She threw a grin to Parrish, looking for the answering gleam of good humor she was coming to expect. But the boy had set his face into an emotionless mask.
It’s as though he vanishes, she thought. Dies, almost.
And Langda was speaking to him, not her: “You’ve come up in the world, Kir, since you left the Fleet.”
“Is that a question?”
“You’re visiting Convenor Gracechild?”
“We’ve never met,” Parrish said. “I work for her kinswoman.”
“Kir Gale Feliachild,” Parrish said.
Langda looked blank.
“He means me,” Gale said.
She peered into Gale’s face. Still blank.
“This Patents debate must be getting nasty if you’re digging for smut about Annela,” she said.
Langda dismissed her. “Kir Parrish. You were with Convener Fells when he committed suicide, weren’t you?”
Teeth! I really should have gotten that story, Gale thought.
“Tell me what happened; give me your side of the tale.”
“I’m afraid I must decline.”
“There are those who say you killed him.”
“Are there?” By now, Parrish might as well have been the brass statue towering over them all.
Gale cleared her throat. “Run along, Pyke. There must be a deficit of nuisance somewhere in the Fleet.”
The reporter stared at Parrish hungrily, as people did. Then she threw up her hands, rejoining the surging throng on the walkway.
“You all right, Parrish?”
He looked at her sidelong, expressionless. Angry? “I haven’t murdered anyone.”
“I believe you.” She didn’t add that her own life held enough ambiguities that, if he had, it might not matter to her. “Maybe while we’re here, there’s some sorting I can do. Salvage your reputation?”
“No,” he said, locked within himself, seeping only a trace of misery. They continued on to Patents without another word.
Every island nation that had signed onto the Fleet Convene was legally entitled to do as it pleased within its borders and territorial waters. They could work any spell, make any law. But to use an inscription elsewhere, they had to get it certified. In the case of a scrip that affected a person, that meant working it on a willing volunteer so its effects could be studied and documented.
The glassine woman, Rasa, was abed reading stories to her daughter. Doctors hovered uselessly in her berth. Like the galago, she had hairline cracks in several of her joints.
They only caught a glimpse of her; as soon as she realized Gale had come from Annela’s office, Rasa had them ejected.
“I guess she favors increasing Patents regulation,” Gale said as the hatch slammed behind them.
“Now what?” Parrish asked.
“Find the scribe who wrote the spell.” Gale waved Annela’s briefing. “He’s sailing in the Wake.”
They caught a dinner ferry to the rear of the Fleet, splitting a fist of bread and a large bowl of chowder as they rode back to the residential ships in mid-Fleet. In the forty-five minutes they were aboard, three sailors sent Parrish drinks, which he declined. Two others bumbled their way through attempted pick-ups, which he gently rebuffed. People stared and murmured.
A trio of officers, one of them the woman they’d encountered earlier—Septer Birch—glared at them from a corner booth.
If Parrish’s mood had been cheerier, Gale might have teased him about all the attention. As it was, their silence held until they found the spellscribe.
He was at a public concert, seeming not to hear the string quintet as they sawed through a concerto. He had that tear-soaked look that Gale associated with grief or prolonged stress. Hunched forward, hands locked, he rocked out of time to the music.
She sat beside him. “Kir Bosh?”
“I have nothing to say to the press.”
“I’m a cousin of Convenor Gracechild’s,” she said. “I’m looking for the stolen inscription.”
“The Watch is on that.”
“They haven’t succeeded, have they?”
“How could anyone find something so small in this…” He swept out an arm, a gesture meant to encompass the whole of the Fleet and its followers. Lanterns glowed from the rigging of hundreds of ships, steady gold interspersed with the multicoloured firelight flicker of enchanted scrip on sails and prows. The sun was setting behind them, so the rearmost ships were silhouetted against the darkening ribbon where sea met sky.
“You’re not a resident, I take it?” Gale said. “You’re visiting, working the spell through Patents?”
“I developed the spell, but I’m not licensed to practice at sea. A Patents scribe performed the glassine inscription on Rasa.”
“Were you present?” Parrish asked.
“Of course I oversaw the Patents scribe. It’s required.”
Gale said: “What happened to the inscription?”
“Rasa locked it in her personal safe at Patents. A week later, when the spell was approved, she tried to retrieve it… the safe was empty.”
“When was that?”
“Two days after she was inscribed.” His eyes welled. “We followed the rules. I don’t know how it was stolen, but creating new regulations… that’s not going to change anything.”
Gale considered explaining that politics and reality were, at best, distant cousins. But cynicism wouldn’t comfort him.
Parrish interrupted: “What is the point of the spell?”
Bosh stared. “The point?”
“The woman and the test galago—they’re dying as a result of this scrip. What good is it?”
“The galago’s lived longer than it would have; it had parasites. They died first.”
“It extends life?”
“If you’re seriously ill, it can. The intention was never meant to be sustained for weeks on end.” Bosh said.
Gale said: “The spell is medical?”
“Yes. It’s for patients with mysterious illnesses . . . ailments that resist identification. When you scrip someone glassine, it allows doctors to look within, to determine what’s wrong. Aetherists and aura readers find this useful.”
“Spot the problem, destroy the spell, and treat the patient?”
“On my home nation, we see seventy patients a year. With the technique Fleet-certified now, we might help a lot more. But this… fuss…” He flapped a hand. “Who’ll risk it?”
Parrish said: “There are other diagnosis spells.”
“Most require radium, which is rare and dangerous to work with. This is safer and less expensive.”
“What does the inscription look like?” Gale asked.
“It’s etched on the inside of a flask of blown glass. The etching crystal is affixed to—”
“A flask, you say?” Gale interrupted before he could get into components, inks and ingredients. Scribes were tiresomely detail-oriented. “Empty or full?”
Bosh produced a corked bottle, filled with black sand and sealed with an amber plug. The mystical letters etched inside had a white-hot glow.
“This is for the galago. The bottle for the patents tester is bigger—”
Parrish plucked it out of his hand.
“Tell me,” Gale said, before Bosh could object to the appropriation. “Is it your sense that any of this is about you, or your homeland? Someone looking for revenge?”
“No. I’m just a convenient scapegoat.”
“You seem very sure,” Parrish said.
Bosh rubbed his eyes. “They had to pick something that would kill the tester, didn’t they?”
“Slowly lethal,” Gale agreed. “And it’s very dramatic, isn’t it? A woman made of glass.”
“I’ll never forgive myself for what she’s suffering,” Bosh said. “We meant to open a clinic here in the Wake. I promised my people I wouldn’t mishandle this.”
“Then take action, Kir.” Parrish looked almost surprised to find himself speaking. “The reporter from Foghorn would listen. Talk to someone about the people you’ve helped. Your silence merely makes it easier to blame you.”
Bosh looked startled. “I’ll consider it. Thank you.”
Gale gave him her best approximation of a motherly pat and they said their goodbyes.
As they walked away, she said to Parrish: “You thought he was making monstrosities, didn’t you? For fun?”
They both sensed something wrong at the same time.
The three sailors from the dinner ferry were following them.
Gale could imagine what was meant to happen next. The trio would harass Parrish, presumably about the dead Convenor that reporter had mentioned. He’d crawl into his shell, forcing them to throw the first punch. All they wanted was to leave him lumped up and moaning on the deck and then scamper away when the Watch turned up.
“Is your pride going to be wounded if we skip the brawl?”
He brightened. “Should we run for it?”
Her respect for him went up another notch. “Never set off the chase instinct.”
Letting out a shriek that could’ve cut bone, she clutched at her chest. The three kids jumped, as if she’d appeared from thin air.
“Somebody—somebody—” she staggered to the rail, dry-heaved, and collapsed.
For a breath, nobody moved. Then Parrish caught on. “Oh no! Someone call a medic! Help!”
He was a terrible actor, but they had been drinking.
One of their would-be attackers took off at a run, calling for the ship’s medical officer. A second wavered, indecisive.
The septer, Birch, stepped forward. “I’m a medic,” she said. She bent to loosen Gale’s collar.
Gale heaved a couple times, hoping to slow her down by threatening to regurgitate warm stew all over her. “Arrrgh.”
“Faking…?” Birch said, under her breath. Then, louder: “She’s faking.”
Too late. She was crouching over Gale, making it an easy matter to snap a knee into her guts. Gale bunted her just hard enough to knock the wind out.
The remaining sailor charged, but Parrish tripped him, slinging him around as he plunged off-balance, then pinning him against the rail.
Gale pushed the gasping sailor off her, climbing to her feet. By now the third guy was returning, but he had a Watchman and a medic in tow. No chance of a fight now.
“Here she is,” Gale said cheerily, and the medic pounced on the winded septer.
Gale tucked her arm into Parrish’s and sauntered off.
“You’re a coward, Garland Parrish!” one of the men yelled. “Hiding behind an old lady—coward!”
If Parrish was bothered by the rebuke, of course, it didn’t show on his face.
“Well. I reckon that saved us twenty minutes, anyway.”
“Only ten, given that you fight dirty.”
“It’s how I got to be such an upright old lady.”
A page trotted up. “Kir Feliachild? You’re wanted on Constitution.”
“Come on, kid. Convene must be taking a break.”
“Shall we taxi back?”
She hesitated: flying at night bothered her a little. Then she climbed aboard. As they lofted upward, she said, “You think we’ll be scrapping with your former mates whenever we visit the Fleet?”
“It interferes with your operating quietly, doesn’t it?” he said. “I’m sorry for that.”
“You puzzle me, Parrish.”
“The effort you make to be unflappable. People fling offal in your face. I’ve seen it three or four times now. You vanish into silken courtesy.”
“I suppose I take pleasure in denying them a reaction.” He clucked. “It’s pride.”
“Those monks who raised you would disapprove?”
A nod. “Pride is a sign of immaturity.”
“Then I can stop worrying that you’re wise beyond your years?”
“Little fear of that.” And that was a note of regret.
“What’s say you let me do something about this mess?”
He shook his head.
“Refusing to accept help when it’s offered, that’s a sign of pride too.”
He didn’t answer.
Annela was six feet tall and built like a statue of Bounty—full breasted and round-hipped, with huge hands. The two women were cousins, though nobody would guess it to see them. Gale was unmistakably Verdanii, pale and knotted like a wind-blasted tree. Annela was a rare throwback to the copper-skinned, slate-haired islanders their foremothers had invaded and displaced on Verdan, centuries earlier.
She collapsed on a chair that looked barely big enough to hold her. “How far have you gotten?”
“Talked to the spellscribe, the girl, and a pro snoop from Foghorn.”
“A reporter—you? How’d that happen?”
“Irrelevant. She didn’t tell me anything useful.”
“Did the Patents girl let you in?”
“No, she showed us the door. Could she be in on it?”
Annela nodded. “I’ve been thinking she might. It’d be the easy way to get that flask from her safe.”
“If so,” Parrish said, “She could have given it to any of the Convenors pushing for increased regulation.”
“Too risky.” Annela examined him minutely. “No Convenor would get caught holding the thing.”
Gale said: “Someone close to Rasa will have the flask. It is, literally, her life.”
“Who could she ask to hazard her that way?” Parrish looked sceptical. “It’s too much to ask.”
“It’s an expression of trust,” Gale countered. “Asking someone to let her suffer, perhaps die. It shows she has faith in their connection.”
He gave her a too-canny look. “I was raised by monks, remember? I know a sermon when I hear it.”
“Someone Rasa trusts to hurt her,” Annela rolled ice in her glass.
“Can’t be many people like that around.”
“Her parents aren’t in Fleet,” Annela said. “Her child’s father?”
They went into her sanctum. Parrish—seas, was he in a huff?—remained in the outer office, seeking out the galago cage. Asleep, the creature was a lonely-looking bundle of glass fluff, aglow with color. Parrish took out the flask, rolling it in his hands.
“Is that boy who I think he is?” Annela murmured.
“Sloot hired him. He’s to be the new captain of Nightjar.”
“Why’re you dragging him around with you?”
“He’s useful, Annela.”
“Have you told him about Erstwhile?”
“I’ve told him I’m courier to a strange and little-known place; he thinks I mean a minor islands in the outlands.”
Anella shook her head. “Then you’re not yet certain of him. Cut him loose.”
“Teeth, not you, too! He hasn’t killed anyone, Nella.”
“You remember Ramjo Fells?”
“No… wait. Bull-headed man, from Grimreef?”
“A good man, Gale. Stubborn, yes, but smart. He didn’t believe in using the Convene to wring wealth from the weak nations. And, incidentally, widely beloved.”
An ally of hers, then. “He killed himself, that reporter said. While Parrish was on guard duty.”
“Niner Parrish, as he was back then and Fells had an unscheduled meeting that evening, a long one. Afterward, Fells sent a messenger to Constitution. Parrish said it was meant to be a request for a Watch investigator. His story was that Fells had taken bribes and was going to confess.”
“What did the message actually say?”
“The sheet was blank. Fells locked himself in his cabin–to await arrest, or so Parrish seemed to believe. He destroyed his papers, killed his secretary and took a lethal dose of maddenflur.”
“Then he was into something rotten.”
“The Watch took your pretty boy into custody for six weeks,” Annela said. “During that time, two of Fells’ favourite officers drowned under mysterious circumstances.”
“If he was corrupt, you’re better off without him.”
“Ramjo was loved, Gale. The storm of hysteria that blew up over his death… I know you can’t be bothered to interest yourself in the news, but Parrish was vilified. They said he seduced Ramjo and drove him mad, that he killed him with his own hands, that he framed him in some scheme of his own making.”
“He was a criminal mastermind at seventeen?”
“Fell’s friends and allies have been tainted by association. All of us on the starboard side of the government have lost face. The Watch has been poking into our affairs in the most insidious way. Fire the boy, Gale.”
“Pish. I’m not getting rid of someone because he’s a political embarrassment to you.”
“He’s a target! You’re going to be killed sooner or later. With people chasing him, you could be the one struck.”
It occurred to Gale that this might be why Parrish had been so ready to run from the brawl. He preferred being seen a coward by his former friends to possibly triggering the events leading to her prophesied death. “I’m sure that my long-promised murder, when and if it happens—”
“Don’t bait the goddess, Gale.”
“—will be equally ignominious whether I’m the intended target or not.”
“Fire him for me, then.” Annela poured herself a second drink. “You were just lecturing him on the virtue of imposing on your friends, weren’t you? Of testing one’s bonds?”
She bit back an immediate refusal. She’d known Parrish a month; she and Annela went back a lifetime. “For you, I’ll consider it.”
In the outer office, they saw Parrish make his choice, wrapping the glass inscription flask in a scrap of fabric–to contain the shards–and crushing it against the desk.
There was a faint hum, and the flames in all the lanterns flickered to umber. The hair on Gale’s arms stirred; for a second, her teeth ached.
The galago shimmered and darkened. It was like seeing paint poured into a vase. It cheeped at Parrish as he opened the cage, clambering into his lap as the glass turned to flesh and fur. He dabbed at the blood where the cracks in its glass skin had formed.
“On Erstwhile, in a nation called South Africa, they call those things bushbabies,” Gale said absently.
“I guess it fits,” Annela said. “Ah—here’s the information on the girl’s lover.”
They spent the night poring over the girl’s history, checking lest there might be other suspects. The best prospect remained the father of Rasa’s child. A Convene clerk, he attended government debates, which meant he’d be able to keep track of how things were going.
“How do we prove he has the flask, if he does?” Annela said.
“Scare him,” Gale said.
Convenors were always getting lavish gifts: she had Bettona assemble a basket, innumerable glass flasks, and a silky pillow. She took the sack Parrish had used for the glass shards of the inscription and a paperweight and set to crushing the flasks into an impressive pile of mostly-clear glass shards, though she threw in bits of a red bottle, too. She put the pillow in the basket, piled the shards atop, and pulled the eyes off a hand-carved ceremonial doll. Then she soaked a bunch of the revolting dates in a mixture of water and leftover soup, pouring the resulting brown mixture through the pile, leaving it glistening, putrid, and soaking into the pillow.
“All right, Parrish, I want you to take this to the disposal pile for the trash barge,” she said, holding it out. “If anyone asks, it isn’t the galago.”
“It isn’t the galago.”
“Exactly. So you won’t be lying, will you?”
His lip twitched. “Understood.”
“Try not to get beat up on the way,” she hollered after him.
“I’ll give you this: he’s pretty,” Annela said. “The view as he goes is almost as good as—”
“Stop that,” Gale said.
“You think a pile of broken glass and a bit of stink will make someone panic?”
“They’ll think it’s the galago’s body. If you deny it emphatically enough—”
“Everyone will think I’m lying?”
“Including the clerk. He’ll figure Rasa is at death’s door.”
The reporter from Foghorn was the first to grab at the rumor, chasing Parrish to the garbage heap, then following him back to demand answers from Annela. The galago was dead, wasn’t it? Not at all, Annela replied, it was still in her office. Could she produce it? No, it was sick.
It worked well enough: the Convene was in hue and cry by the time the opening bell rang. Someone demanded Rasa be brought in for examination. Annela weighed anchor on that: was it safe to move her?
Whipping the Convene into a state of hysteria, with everyone overtired and the prospect that if they didn’t do something, soon, the girl might die, wasn’t that hard.
Gale took a seat up in the gallery, watching Rasa’s clerk. He fidgeted as he took notes. As the whole of the Convene edged into a frenzy, tensions rose:
“The girl might shatter at any minute?”
“How did the creature come to break?”
“The galago is alive,” Annela protested.
“Then produce it!”
“It’s not in my possession anymore…”
He stood it for an hour and a half before asking a fellow clerk to take over. Gale followed him across the ship, deep belowdecks.
He had secreted the flask within the cabinets of the wine cellar, tucked in with all the other bottles. The glass of the inscription was dark: its letters glowed faintly, until he wrapped it.
Sommelier’s gonna catch hell over that little lapse in security, Gale thought.
The clerk led her back up to the deck, staring at the bottle, miserable.
“So Rasa asked you to let her die?”
He turned, startled. She saw a struggle play out on his face: he didn’t know her, she was nobody, maybe she just wanted blackmail money. Perhaps she should suggest it; it might be interesting to see who he’d contact, how much they’d pay. Smoke out a conspirator.
Then he whirled. Parrish had faded out of the shadows, trapping him between them.
The clerk held the bottle out over the rail. “I’ll drop it.”
“And doom the mother of your child to a slow, painful end?”
“I swore… ” he said.
“You swore to help her interfere with official debate,” Parrish said. “But you serve the Convene, don’t you? Took an oath? This isn’t some minor infraction. The principle you’ve violated—”
“Principle?” he sputtered. “Day in, day out, our exalted leaders… it’s all my island this and our economic interests that. They don’t govern for the common good.”
“Admirable speech,” Gale said, “Except you and Rasa were paid to rig this game.”
He shook the bottle. “I’m a whore among whores, so what?”
“Rasa may have asked you to let her die,” Gale said gently. “You don’t have to do it. You can decide the price is too high. You can change your mind.”
“Her suffering serves no further purpose,” Parrish agreed. “She’s been exposed.”
The clerk’s face was wet with tears. “Nobody knows anything.”
He flung the flask overboard.
Parrish moved with the slick grace of a dolphin. He was over the rail, diving into the black waters, almost before the bottle had begun its fall. It will sink like a stone, Gale thought, it’s full of sand.
“Man overboard!” she roared. The clerk was staring in amazement at Parrish’s abandoned doublet. The galago sat atop it, right next to his boots.
He’d been ready.
As the alarm pealed, Gale stomped over to the man, furious. “If he doesn’t come up, you’ve murdered two people instead of one.”
“It was wine,” he said, tone sullen, and the thing that made her want to punch him was that it was true: without the scripped bottle bearing Rasa’s name, it was only his word against hers.
Lights were cast downward, at the sea on the port side. Gale joined the spotters, staring downward. At least Parrish wasn’t floating on the water in a heap of bones and linen.
What if he just never surfaced?
“How long has it been?” one of the Watch asked, and she tried to think. Ten ticks? Thirty?
“Fifteen since the alarm,” someone else responded. Of course: nobody was speaking to her.
Constitution‘s aura of discipline kept civilians off the deck while the rescue attempt was underway, but faces crowded all her portals. The upper decks, where Convenors strolled among small gardens and discussed affairs of state, were filling with people.
Among them were the glass woman, Rasa, and the reporter, Pyke. It was good politics: show the pitiable victim of the Patents office to the crowd. Rasa’s glowing eyes were fixed on her former lover. Did she know he’d thrown the flask away?
“Sixty,” said the Watch.
He’s a sailor. He’s a good swimmer. He’s athletic. Gale stared at the obsidian waves. Don’t vanish on me now, cub.
Perhaps I should fire him. I am getting stupidly attached.
“Kir,” the Watch said. “The person thrown overboard… ”
“I threw nobody!” protested the clerk suddenly. “This servant is making a fuss for no reason.”
A frown. “A false alarm… ”
“He’s down there,” Gale insisted. “Look, his clothes.”
The Watch took them in. “Shoes off? You say he was thrown?”
“He dove,” she conceded, “But—
Surely he could hold his breath for a couple of minutes.
“There!” Searchlights to the stern of Constitution swivelled and there was a rush of personnel. Gale moved to join them, but the Watchman held her back. “Sorry, Kir. Until this is straightened out—”
She shook her head, not caring. They were bringing something up now. Alive, or dead? It was all shadows; she couldn’t make him out.
Then he was walking toward her, under his own power… and he had the bottle in his hand.
Parrish locked eyes with the clerk, then looked up at the glass woman, Rasa. She seemed to realize what was about to happen, but it was too late to vanish into the mob.
Raising his hand, Parrish hurled the bottle to the deck, shattering glass, sending black sand everywhere. People covered their ears; a few swooned.
Rasa gasped, clutching her chest. She fell into a crouch, color and softness returning to her face, all in front of the reporter and innumerable witnesses.
Parrish handed over the neck of the shattered bottle. “Everyone gets to live,” he said to the clerk. “You feel better, don’t you?”
The man spit on the deck at his feet, but the gesture was half-hearted.
“That’s enough,” the head of the Watch said. “You, Kir, come with me. And you—” He glowered at Parrish— “Wait over there until I sort this out.”
“Might I trouble you for my shoes?” Parrish asked.
“Get something warm for him to drink,” Gale added loudly. “Before he freezes.”
“Sit,” the Watch officer said, in a voice that might in itself have caused hypothermia. The two of them made their way to the indicated bench.
“You are appallingly bad with people,” Gale said.
“I know,” Parrish said.
“Good swimmer though.”
“I won the Slosh, at my Graduation.” He beamed. The memory of the dangerous swimming contest must be a good one. Then his face closed. “What happens now?”
“Word’ll get out that the girl and the clerk were in on the scheme, and the Patents debate will ease down to a simmer. With luck, one or the other of them will avoid arrest.”
“Whoever roped ’em into the scheme is probably pretty slick. There’s a chance they’ll come away without facing charges if they keep their mouths shut.”
“You’re all right with that?”
“In the first place, it’s out of my hands. In the second it’d be a shame, for their daughter, if they were both convicted of interfering with the Convene. They must have been in terrible financial straits to agree to the scheme.”
He puzzled this one out, probably weighing pity for the child against the fact that her parents were criminals.
“I don’t know that I approve of you leaping off a moving ship in the dead of night on the off chance you might catch the inscription.”
“The seas were calm. The prospect of Rasa dying, crack by crack, slowly—”
“Would’ve been terrible,” she agreed. “But how’ll I face Sloot if you drown?”
“You’ll tell him to find another first mate.” Color blotched his cheeks. “Speaking of replacing me. I’m sure there’s been a suggestion that you…”
“I’d consider it a favour… I’d be in your debt, Gale… if you kept me on the Nightjar crew.”
It cost him. It was a visible effort for him to utter the words.
Swallowed your pride, boy. Good for you.
“Pish, cub,” she said. “I was never going to fire you.”
“Nella ain’t my employer, officially or otherwise.”
“I’ll explain my complicated government position when we’re out at sea, far from prying ears. And you can tell me all about your big disgrace. Or not, as you choose.”
He ran a hand through his wet hair, keeping his gaze on the sea and letting out a long, shaky breath. When he spoke, it was with his usual composure: “Thank you.”
By now the hubbub was clearing. The Watch was taking the clerk into custody: Rasa was bound for medical. Annela glided up.
“You gave that jackal from the Foghorn a scoop, Parrish.”
“She’s not so bad,” he said.
“I’m going back to Nightjar, Nella,” Gale said. “Sleep in my own berth. Was there anything beyond this particular muckslide you were hoping to get from me?”
“Not in Fleet. I have dispatches for Erstwhile, and there’s a situation on Drake’s Shoal that I thought you might interest yourself in.”
“Ah, Drake’s. Been there yet, Parrish?”
“Their beaches are lined with bizarre trees—a mandrake variant—that live in harmony with burrowing molluscs whose shells conduct electricity. At night, they sizzle. It’s the damnedest thing.”
“Dragon mussels,” he said, lighting up. “I’ve seen drawings.”
“‘Course you have. Scare us up a ride out to the Wake. Something comfortable; you’re soaked and I’m tired.”
With a bow, he vanished to the rear.
“Boy’s a naturalist,” Gale said to Annela.
“You’re keeping him, I take it.”
“Him and the bushbaby, unless you need the thing.”
“Please, take the chattering monkey before Bettona quits her post.” Her tone was sober. “You’re making a mistake.”
“It won’t be the last.”
“You can’t know that.
“Nobody can,” she said, giving in to a sudden urge to wrap her arms around her cousin, to squeeze the heated, cushy mass of her and breathe in that odd spicy scent she wore, a gingery perfume that made Gale think of home. “Why don’t you pack in the politics and come with us? Forget about factions and dead Convenors and sail with Nightjar. Taste the electric molluscs?”
“Change what I am?”
“Should be easy enough.”
“The boy’s right—you’re terrible overt when you’re sermonizing.”
“All part of my charm,” she said, and then the galago was scampering along the rail, waving a stinking date and hopping into her arms, feather-light, its pulse a rattata under its short grey fur, and she kissed her cousin one last time and let the beast pull on her hair as she went astern to join her first mate and, together, find their way home.
“The Glass Galago” Copyright © 2015 by A. M. Dellamonica
Art copyright © 2015 by Richard Anderson