“There’s something really off about him,” Leta was saying quietly. “Not off in the way Fiearius is off. But truly wrong. And I didn’t take enough psychology classes to know what it is … “
The following week, Leta sat beside Corra atop a large crate in the cargo bay, discussing Ludo as the crew milled about, working and moving in boxes of stolen goods. Ludo hadn’t talked to Leta — or anyone else, it seemed — in the past few days, but Leta couldn’t shake her instinct so she’d decided to consult somebody else.
Corra, for one, was in full agreement that the man was crazed.
“I don’t like him,” she said bluntly. “I’ve never liked him. He’s creepy and unsettling and not to mention, kind of a jerk. I know the cap’n thinks he’s a great gunhand,” her tone grew quiet and bitter as she added, “Though I’m better,” before going on, “But what good is a gunhand if he’s going to wandering around the ship, watching everyone all suspiciously and making everybody uncomfortable?”
“No kidding,” Leta muttered, watching as Rhys dragged a trunk up the ramp and then sat on it, apparently done for the day.
“But it’s not just that either,” Corra went on, lowering her voice. “He’s been acting out in the field recently too. The other week when me and Fiear and him went out to steal those R680’s? It was supposed to be a covert sort of thing. Just slip in and grab the stuff and slip out. So cap’n sent him to scout ahead. And when we got there? The whole place was shot up.” Corra widened her eyes and stared at Leta pointedly. “Ya don’t just do stuff like that. Not unless there’s somethin’ seriously wrong with ya…”
“And you know what else I found out?” Corra went on without skipping a beat. She seemed particularly excited that her penchant for ship gossip was coming in handy. “A lot of the deckhands have their doors locked at night. I thought it was just ‘cause they’re on a ship full of thieves.” She laughed once and then shook her head dramatically. “One of them told me. It’s ‘cause of ‘certain people’ aboard they don’t want just stopping by…” She raised her brows indicatively. “I think they mean Ludo.”
Leta watched as Nikkolai and Celia, one of the newly hired deckhands, carried a heavy trunk up the ramp. Celia was a young girl, timid and skittish, but eager to work aboard the ship. Earlier, Celia had passed by, overheard their conversation and blurted out, “Are you talking about that gunhand guy, Ludo?”
When Leta nodded, and then asked what she thought of him, Celia looked alarmed, muttered something about Ludo making her uncomfortable and then she darted away. That, and Corra’s explanation, were enough evidence for Leta. Quite simply, Ludo needed to go.
And even Fiearius wouldn’t disagree with that.
She slid herself down from the crate, ready to go find the captain, when suddenly Cyrus’ voice sounded out from the ramp.
“Hey — Leta — “ he called in a hurried voice, waving his arm to get her attention, like he was drowning and she was a lifeguard.
For a moment Leta thought something was actually wrong. But when Cyrus approached, he looked more embarrassed than actually alarmed. He stopped short in front of her, caught a hand through his messy hair and simply grimaced for ten seconds.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” said Cyrus. “Just, uh. What’s going on with you?” he asked, feigning casualness.
Leta stared at him suspiciously. “I was going to talk to Fiearius about Ludo … “
“Oh that’s interesting. So.” He glanced nervously at Corra and then turned his attention fully to Leta. “Are you busy right now? Or…hungry? Are you hungry?”
“I’m hungry,” Corra put in, smiling at him kindly, but Cyrus just laughed awkwardly and didn’t look at her.
For a moment, Corra’s expression sunk. But in typical Corra fashion, it evaporated and she remarked firmly, “So I’ll go get something in the kitchen.” She kept her eyes fixed on Cyrus. He kept his elsewhere. “Yep,” she added. He said nothing. “That’s what I’ll do.” She caught Leta’s eye a moment then pushed herself down from the crate.
Seeming to give him one last chance to change his mind, she stood beside Cyrus, staring at him expectantly, for another moment before she eventually relented and with a grumble of, “Okay bye,” headed off into the ship.
As soon as Corra’s back was turned, Cyrus finally looked to Leta, pain and apology written all over his features.
“I need a favor,” he said at last.
“What?” Leta was perplexed now. “What is it?”
“I–” he started. And stopped. His hand went to his forehead and he sighed. “This is stupid. But…I’m meeting up with this gi–friend for dinner. She used to be a deckhand on the ship ‘til she left eight months ago. And I just–” He sighed heavily. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to–what to talk to her about. I don’t know, it might be fine, but I just–I thought it might be better with somebody else around.”
“You want company?” Leta realized. “Okay. Well, doesn’t Corra know her?”
Immediately, Cyrus’ face flushed pink and he answered, “I can’t bring Corra. It’d be weird…”
Leta couldn’t help it: she started to laugh. “So you want me to come with you on your date?”
“It’s not a date,” he said at once. “It’s just meeting up with an old friend I don’t know why it has to be a date it’s not like she wants to date me or anything I don’t think you should–” Finally, he caught himself and glared at her. “Would you just come?” he pleaded at last. “Please?”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“So who is this woman exactly?” asked Leta curiously as she walked with Cyrus through the city. She couldn’t help but notice he was tying himself into a knot of nerves: fidgeting with his hair, constantly adjusting his glasses as they neared the restaurant.
“Her name’s Alyx,” he said quickly, smoothing back his hair for the hundredth time. “She was aboard for awhile. We found her stowed away in the cargo bay one day, running from some trouble she’d gotten herself into with some small smuggling gang. We took care of it for her and she stayed on as a deckhand. She helped me out with the navigation. Pretty good at it too.” A small smile flashed over his face. “Good to work with. We got on really well.”
He sighed as he finished the story, “But then one day she just decided to leave. Out of nowhere. We kept in touch though so when she heard we’d be around, she insisted we meet up. I think you’ll like her.”
As it turned out, Leta rather did like her, on appearance alone. As they approached the restaurant, Alyx came into view. She had a long dark ponytail, the rest of her head shaved, and every inch of her visible skin was covered in ink. The first thing she did when she saw Cyrus was punch him in the arm and scoop him into a hug, an interesting sight, as she had about four inches of height on him.
“Look at you!” she declared enthusiastically as Cyrus laughed once, loud and awkward.
“Yeah … yeah,” he muttered, slipping out of her grasp and stepping back. “This is Leta, by the way. She’s the ship’s doctor.”
Alyx turned her dark eyes onto Leta and grinned widely. “Doctor? Geez, Cy, coulda used one of those when I was around, don’t ya think?” She forcefully stuck her hand out towards Leta, who shook it. “Nice to meet ya. I’m Alyx.”
They slipped toward the restaurant and took their seats at a small table. Alyx plucked up the drink menu and looked curiously at Leta. “You must have your hands full aboard that particular ship, doctor.”
“You’ve no idea,” Leta assured her, grinning wryly. “How long were you aboard?”
“I spent a good six months with the bunch. Wouldn’t exactly call it the best time of my life, but it wasn’t the worst.” She glanced over at Cyrus knowingly. “Mopping the floor and plugging in coordinates to hunt down bad guys sure beats running away from them.”
Alyx leaned forward on the table and looked Leta squarely in the face. “You must be relatively new,” she muttered suspiciously. “You haven’t fully caught the crazy yet.” She raised a brow at her. “It’ll come though. Sooner or later. Careful, it makes you do some pretty weird stuff you wouldn’t ever dream of doing otherwise.” She let out a long sigh through her teeth. “Real real weird stuff.”
“I warned you the Dionysian is poison,” Cyrus pointed out, though there was a small smirk on his face. “But you wanted to stay anyway. You can’t blame us for your own informed poor decisions.”
“I never said I didn’t like it,” Alyx replied simply. “Just that it was weird.” She shrugged innocently. “Nothing more. So. How’s the rest of the crew? Obviously the captain’s still kicking?”
“Miraculously, yes,” Leta remarked simply.
“Shocking,” Alyx laughed. “And Corra?”
“Corra’s great. Actually, Corra’s amazing,” said Leta proudly. “She’s the reason I’ve survived aboard for as long as I have. And you too Cy,” she added hastily as kind afterthought, patting his wrist.
“Aw yeah, those two are saving graces, for sure,” Alyx agreed, smiling sweetly at Cyrus who turned a funny shade of pink again and suddenly became very interested in his menu. To Leta, she added, “And Rhys? Amora?”