Exit Strategy

by London Lampy

Chapter 45

I don't know who the woman is, but she has golden eyes like mine and when she smiles at me I feel warmth flood through my body and the pain in my leg and the dark shadows whispering around me fade into the background.

"That's the last injection I'm going to give him at maximum dosage." A voice says from a million miles away. "I'm going to start reducing his morphine intake from now on."

I feel a tugging sensation at my thigh. "It's looking better, the infection is clearing and I'm as sure as I can be that the femur is only chipped, not fully broken. They have very solid bones you know, echobacks, if he was human it would most likely be shattered, if he was visk I doubt he'd even still have a leg."

I don't recognise the voice, and I don't who it's talking about, the woman runs her hand through my hair soothingly, but for some reason I can't feel her touch.

"So there's no risk of him losing it now?" I know this voice, I can't remember the name, but I have an image of green eyes.

"Not unless he takes an unexpected turn for the worst, no."

This woman doesn't have golden eyes, and I can feel her touch. She's reading to me from a newspaper, I can hear the rustle of it and smell the ink. I'm finding it hard to follow what she's saying, and I ask her to repeat some of it.

She looks at me, her ice blue eyes widening in surprise, then she folds up the paper and puts it down on the floor beside her chair.

"Are you back?" She asks quietly.

I don't understand the question. "Have I been somewhere?"

"Yes." She replies smiling. "In every sense of the fucking phrase."

"Vio...what are you doing here?" I say as her name suddenly echoes inside my head.

"Where do you think you are?" Her question is gentle and it feels wrong, my mind tells me she doesn't normally speak like this.

"On The Firebrat." I look around me. This isn't my cabin, it's a cabin, but not the one I share with Topher, this has bunk beds and everything is made of metal, not wood.

"Don't worry monkey boy, you're safe. You're on the freighter and you're going home." She squeezes my hand. I try to sit up but pain rips through my leg.

"Calm down." She pushes my shoulders back onto the bed. "I told you, you're safe, no ones going to hurt you, or chain you up. We took those cuffs off you." I raise my hands up in front of my face and look at my wrists, they're bare.

"What have you done with them?" Panic starts to rise up inside me.

"Vin threw them over the side."

"Captain Quint told me not to take them off."

"Exit." She leans over me and looks into my eyes. "You're not with those pirate bastards any more, we're on our way back to Parnell."

"But..." I stare up at her. "I chose...didn't I? This is wrong, this is the wrong ending."

"It's going to all feel fucking strange to you for a while, you got shot in the thigh and nearly bled to death, you've had a bad fever and been on morphine since then. It'll take a while before you feel normal again."

A clear memory comes back to me, Vin and Quint, both aiming guns at each other.

"Did he kill him?" I ask desperately.

"Did who kill who?"

"Did Vin kill Captain Quint?"

"No, worst fucking luck, after you got hit everything went kind of tits up. I don't really know how but Vin got you onto the freighter and then the shits started firing cannon balls at us. Didn't do the ship any major damage but we retreated. Thought they were going to give chase at first but then they turned tail so to speak. I guess it was kind of stale mate really, they lost some men, we lost some men, but we got what we came for and they got their asses kicked a bit, should send a message to the cartel loud and clear."

"Who was lost?" I breath.

"A couple of the hired mercenaries, no one you know, don't worry."

"No...from The Firebrat, who was lost?"

"No fucking idea, not that captain, that much I do know."

"Were all the dead humans?"

"Think so, I didn't exactly stick around to do a body check."

Tallis keeps out of fights, he told me that before, he would have had the sense to stay aloft, I'm sure. I doubt Topher would have ventured out of the cabin if he heard shots, I hope Zizi wasn't hurt, she would have been right in the thick of it. A sudden horrible wave of guilt crashes over me, I should have warned them.

"Is your leg hurting?" She asks, her voice full of concern. "You're crying."

I put my hand to my face, it comes away wet. I hadn't even noticed.

"I'll go and get the doctor." She says standing up. "He can give you another shot of morphine."

The woman with the golden eyes is singing to me, I can't understand the words but the tune is soft and soothing and makes me feel like sunlight. She quietly calls my name, and I open my eyes and smile at her, and she turns into Vin, who sits down on the chair and smooths my hair back from my face.

"Sorry to wake you." He smiles at me and I recall I like it when he does that.

"Violet told me you were finally making sense, I thought I'd let you sleep off the painkiller then come and see for myself."

"How close to Parnell are we?" I ask.

"A couple of days, you've been out of it for some time. Violet and the ship's doctor have been taking good care of you. The injury was bad but you're healing well, perhaps tomorrow you could try walking. The doctor has got some crutches you can use."

"You shot me." I say blankly.

"Not on purpose, you grabbed my arm and my bullet ended up in your leg, believe me, I would rather it ended up almost anywhere rather than in you."

"You were going to kill Quint, I couldn't let you do that."

He shakes his head and sighs. "You remember Doctor Morrison, the doctor from Municipal Works? After I saw you last time I spoke to him about you. He says it happens sometimes to people who get kidnapped, especially if they're young and impressionable, they end up identifying with the people who have taken them and come to see their family and friends as the enemy instead. I think that's what has happened to you."

I close my eyes, is that what has happened? I don't think so.

"I don't see you as my enemy." I say after a few moments. "I just liked being there, it was starting to feel like home."

"Yes, but it's not your home is it, you belong in Parnell with us."

"Why? Why do I belong in Parnell? I don't have any family, I don't even have that many friends. It's not even really where I come from. At least in Nightport I didn't have to strap my tail to my leg or put up with being stared at all the time, and some of the people there actually liked and cared about me."

"You think no one in Parnell likes or cares about you?" He questions, raising his eyebrows at me, I shrug in reply. He leans forward and kisses me softly on the mouth, then sits back and looks at me.

A few months ago I would have been delighted if he had kissed me, now I just feel like punching him. I don't though, I settle for glaring at him instead.

"I didn't risk getting demoted by Zale, requisition a coal freighter or drag a small army half way across the world to bring back someone I neither like nor care about." He says.

"But I didn't want to come back." I whisper.

The breeze on deck is so cold that I am getting goosebumps despite wearing a woollen coat and sweater. It was late spring when I left Parnell, it's almost winter now and I've forgotten what cold feels like. My leg hurts like hell but I'm determined to walk, or rather hop on crutches at least once round the deck.

Vio did one very sensible thing before she came out here, she went to my flat and got some of my clothes to bring with her, so at least I've got something to wear. My tail stuffed down my trouser leg and it feels very uncomfortable, I've got so used to having it hanging naturally that I can't believe I used to have it like this all the time, although in this weather I might be worried about it getting frost bite. It's probably a good thing that most echobacks live in hot places, snow drifts and long naked tails wouldn't go well together.

I can see Vio leaning on the rail smoking so I hop over to her.

"Hey monkey boy." She greets me throwing her cheroot butt into the churning grey sea. "How are you feeling?"

It's a good question.

"Weird, my leg really hurts." I also feel sad and frustrated and heartbroken as well, I really miss Topher and I can't get Quint's final words to me out of my mind. Vio tends to see things in black and white though, and she's having trouble understanding that I'm not happy at having been "rescued".

"They still giving you the good shit?" She means morphine.

"Yes, but not so much, so I'm feeling more pain, but at least I'm not having weird dreams any more." No more visits from the golden eyed woman.

"Hmm, did the doctor tell you you need to eat plenty of red meat? It helps compensate for the blood loss."

He told me to eat liver, that's not going to happen. I'm having enough trouble with the horrible food from the galley here, everything tastes the same and it's all boiled and stewed until it's grey. I keep having fantasises about Clyde's goat curry and fried plantains. "Yes he did tell me that." She nods approvingly at me.

"Talking of telling people things." She pulls another cheroot out and lights it. "One of the crew told me how Vin got you onto the ship, do you want to know?"

"Well I do now you've said that, yes."

"That pirate captain helped him. Apparently after Vin shot you the captain dropped his gun and the two of them used his shirt as a tourniquet, then they worked together to get you safely on here." She looks at me questioningly.

"It could be true, I don't remember anything after the bullet hit me, although Vin hasn't said anything about that happening."

"Well he wouldn't, would he? He doesn't want people to know he was assisted by the enemy."

Or he doesn't want me to know Quint helped him.

"Bit of an odd thing for a kidnapper to do." She says, blowing out smoke."

"Not all kidnappers are the same." I reply, thinking about Tobias, she shakes her head and laughs.

"I've missed you, no other fucker I know sees things quite the way you do. Vin really pushed Zale for us to get you back but I was there too. Sampson even got involved in the end, Zale was stamping and hissing about why we were spending so much of our budget on you, but Sampson agreed, he used to be a solider too, he understands you don't leave a man behind."

"Thanks." I say, I appreciate the effort even if I don't appreciate the outcome.

"I told your boyfriend we were going to get you, he's looking forward to seeing you again. He's been coming to the office quite a bit to see if we had any news of you."

"My boyfriend? I don't have a boyfriend." I say puzzled.

"Boyfriend, occasional lay, I don't know what you want to call him, but he's been worried about you."

"Still not with you, who are you talking about?"

"Rylance, remember him? He hasn't forgotten you."

"Ry?" Shit, I had forgotten all about him.

"Yes, how many other men were you sleeping with before you got kidnapped?"


"Sorry, so much has happened in the last few months..." And it suddenly hits me again, I want to go back, I want to go back to Nightport. I grip the rail and take a deep breath.

"Come on monkey boy, I think we need to get you inside." She says, mistaking my emotional pain for physical.

I follow her to the galley and sit down awkwardly while she fetches us tea and chocolate biscuits. The warm steamy room is a relief after the icy cold winds of outside, and it feels good to be off my leg.

"Has anything interesting happened while I was away?" I ask, I'd quite like to talk about something not related to me.

"Not really, Zale has been a total fucking shit, but I already told you that, and anyway that's nothing new. Sonja and Kezlo had a huge falling out and he sided with Kezlo, which had Sonja complaining she was being picked on because she's not a visk. I don't like the bitchy cow but I think she had a point, the fucking lizards do tend to stick together."

"They're not all bad you know." I sip my tea and think of Zizi. I really hope she wasn't hurt in the fighting, Vio raises her eyebrows at me but says nothing.

"That security guard, you know the one who gave you all that fucking grief over losing your pass, he's been sacked, guess what for?"

"I've no idea." The biscuit is good, I have missed chocolate biscuits.

"The dirty fucker made a hole in the ceiling of the ladies toilet and was tossing off watching women piss. He got caught when part of the ceiling collapsed."

"Really? Eww, that's disgusting." I start on another biscuit.

"But funny. It was the toilet on third, I never use that one so I can find it funny."

"Oh." She adds, after taking a swig of tea. "I'm going on a date with Caddy when we get back."

"Caddy agreed to go on a date with you? Doesn't she have a boyfriend?"

"Not any more, he ran off with another girl, and I've been consoling her."

I think about this. "Does she know it's a date?"

"Date, dinner with a friend, not much difference." She grins.

"Actually quite a lot of difference, dates usually end up in bed."

"Yours maybe monkey boy, I intend to woo her slowly."

This sounds like something doomed to failure, and I'm about to say as much when Vin appears behind her and comes and sits next to me. I've been trying to avoid him ever since he kissed me, I have far too much going on in my head at the moment for me to be able to deal with what that meant.

"Captain Hyde says we'll be home tomorrow." He looks at me. "You don't have to come back to work straight away if you don't want to, although I expect Zale will want to see you sometime soon, if only to prove that we actually got you back in one piece, more or less."

I nod and he puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes it.

Home. Work. Parnell. I discreetly slip my hand inside my shirt and touch the silver ring that still sits in my navel. My cuffs might have gone in the ocean, but I'm grateful no one removed that, it's the only thing I have left to remind of the months I spent with Quint and Topher.

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