“Nobody needs to get hurt,” Javier said shakily, throwing Ludo a terrified look. “That’s not why we’re doing this. Remember? We have terms, is all, Leta. It’s not that we want trouble — “
“Trouble?” Leta couldn’t help but interrupt shrilly. “You don’t want any trouble? Oh, good work then. And give me that,” she snapped, snatching the gun from his limp hand, bringing it in and cocking it for herself for her own protection.
A second later, Leta heard the sound of two more guns being cocked behind her. She wheeled around, but found it was Corra and Fiearius on the upper floor, arriving at last. Corra readied a rifle under her arm as Fiearius stormed forward on the platform overhead, a pistol in hand as he leaned his palms against the railing and glared down at them all.
“You know, when picking hostages, it’s probably not the best idea to take the one absolutely vital to your survival,” Fiearius growled sarcastically, his face darkened.
“Release him!” Corra demanded furiously. “Do it now or I swear to God–”
“Maybe … maybe we should let him go,” Javier said in a small voice, but no one listened as Arlo yelled up at Fiearius.
“Ready to get us out of this, captain?” he demanded.
“As soon as you’re ready to stop being a moron,” Fiearius replied bluntly. “How about you–” But before Fiearius could finish his threat, his attention was drawn to the captive in the room.
“Fiear! Hey I need to–” Cyrus shouted, but was cut off when Maya hastily threw a hand over his mouth. A second later though, as Corra swung the muzzle of her rifle towards the direction of Maya’s head, she reluctantly backed off. Cyrus continued impatiently, “I figured it out. There’s a worm. It’s deep, I don’t know how it got there, but it’s been shutting down and corrupting engine systems one by one for the past month…It just reached the critical ones ten days ago.”
Fiearius stared at his brother, dumbfounded, relieved and worried. “Can you fix it?” he ventured hesitantly.
“I was fixing it,” Cyrus snapped. “It’ll take some time, there’s a lot to be rewritten, but I can do it. I was right in the middle when–” He glared suddenly at Arlo next to him. “This happened.”
There was an odd moment of silence as everyone considered what Cyrus said; Leta’s heart leapt.
“It’s fixed?” she repeated faintly, but Maya’s shrieking voice filled the cargo bay.
“He’s lying! He’s lying to get out of this!” She put her hands on her hips and rounded up on Fiearius. “Do what you should’ve done a week ago, Fiear, and get this goddamn ship out of the air!”
Leta had never wanted to smack someone so badly before. Her hand actually itched to do it. Overhead, Fiearius gave a sudden, sick laugh, and started to trek down the stairs to join them.
“Hell no,” he barked. “He says he can fix it, he can fix it. Ain’t no point throwing our lives away when the end’s in sight. So let him go. Now. So that we may reach that end…”
“No,” said Arlo in a low voice, a manic grin spreading over his face as Fiearius stepped fully into the room beside Leta. Her heart lurched in warning. “We have your brother. You’re playing by our rules now.”
There was a glint of silver as Arlo went to brandish his gun, but Fiearius was too quick. In a flash, he had the man pinned against the wall, his forearm at his throat, his gun at the man’s temple.
“You’ll do what I say and you’ll let my brother go,” Fiearius growled under his breath, pure fury in his eyes as he pressed the gun harder to his head. “Don’t think I’m afraid to use this.”
Arlo’s gun fell from his hand and hit the floor, skidding away; Fiearius looked like he was seconds away from pulling the trigger when a powerful voice broke over the room.
“Fiearius, don’t,” cut in a steady, angry voice. “That’s enough. All of you.”
Everyone’s heads turned. Behind them, Aiden’s hand slid smoothly down the railing as he pressed down to the floor. Cold silence swept over the room. His appearance sent a ripple of shock over the deckhands in particular, as Ludo shot a glare to Javier.
“You!” he growled to him. “forget to lock Aiden in his quarters, didn’t you?”
Leta had never seen Aiden like this. His aged face was clouded with a storm and his jaw was locked tightly: he was angry, and Aiden never angered easily. But now, he remained composed.
“This isn’t solving anything,” he informed them curtly. He glared at Ludo, then nodded at Cyrus. “Cut him loose. Now. Cut him loose, before I do.” His words cut through the air like a knife. “Fiearius. Step off.”
It was an odd moment of expectancy: nothing happened, and then everything happened at once. Fiearius growled but released Arlo from his grasp, but not without shoving him forcefully against the wall first. Palia clapped her hands over her mouth, and Ludo cocked his gun but lowered it to his side. But then Leta saw it, in the corner of her eye.
In the furthest part of the room, Javier was crouching to the floor to pick up Arlo’s fallen gun. With a shaking hand he stood unsteadily to his feet and then, to her horror, turned and pointed it tremblingly at Cyrus, looking shocked at his own daring.
“H-hey!” said Cyrus in alarm, shrinking away as much as his binds would allow it.
Leta’s heart froze in her chest, and she was hurrying forward before she could think. “Javier! No!”
All the attention flew to him, the boy shaking a gun in Cyrus’ direction. Suddenly startled, panic masked Javier’s face as he breathed, “I don’t — I don’t know,” and wheeled around on his feet, confused, flashing the gun at everyone around him in defense.
“Put it down, Javier,” came Corra’s voice, cold as ice. She had her gun trained on the young man as he took a step backwards.
Across the room, another deckhand, Nikkolai, pushed through the crowd and pleaded quietly, “Javi, don’t–”
But the pleas only fueled his panic. Eyes round and fearful, Javier wheeled around as voices called to him, “Javier, stop.” “Don’t do it!” “Just put it down!” until the whole bay was filled with voices, some calm, some forceful, begging him to come back before he no longer could.
Fleetingly Leta knew to snatch it from his hand somehow, but all at once, it was too late: overwhelmed, Javier staggered backwards, pointing the gun at Maya, then Ludo, then Fiearius, and then, a fiery metallic bang exploded through the room, making everyone duck and wince in cover.
And then, silence. Silence blanketed the bay. In the slow motion aftermath, all eyes in the room turned to the bullet’s victim.
Horror erupted out of Leta’s throat as she saw him — she saw Aiden. His hand was clapped to his chest, and crimson was seeping between his fingers. His feet carried him two slow, staggering steps backwards, his eyes were unfocused but set rigidly to the floor as he rasped out a breath, blood on his mouth and beard. Then his knees buckled and sent the man to the ground in one motion.
Leta’s mind snapped to life. Screaming voices filled the room, but she hardly heard them as she growled “Move!” and shoved someone aside to advance forward. Her gun slipped limply from her hand and skidded feet away, forgotten, as she dropped to her knees.
Both of her palms went over the endless stream of blood in the center of Aiden’s chest. A second later Maya and Corra flew beside her.
“Help me hold him,” she ordered, steadying the tremor in her voice. “And someone grab the med kit on the shelf by the bay door.”
Leta was hardly conscious of her surroundings now; she barely heard Javier yelling, “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to!”; she didn’t know what Fiearius was doing, what anyone was doing. She did not acknowledge that Aiden’s eyes glazed distantly, nor that his every breath grew fainter than the last. Digging through the med bag, she silenced the knowing voice that awoke in the back of her mind, the one that told her it was already over.
“Hold your hands here,” Leta instructed breathlessly, “keep air from getting into the wound.”
“He ain’t — he ain’t dead,” said Maya, her voice choking, “Leta, please tell me he’s not — “
Yes, thought Leta numbly, he was; she could feel his chest growing empty and still beneath her hand. Ice seemed to fill Leta’s lungs as she crouched there in trembling shock, still holding her hand resolutely to Aiden’s chest, curving her fingers to hold tightly to the fabric of his blood-stained shirt.