The Pirate Apprentice, Chapter 25: An informal inquest is held

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Birch waited quietly on her guests through the glaze of pain that still covered her, but tried to keep a clear head. She was a lucky one. Her body could do in hours what took others days.

Rimares, Sr. looked at her critically, waiting without a word. Dr. Pac sat in the corner, trying hard to not be there, looking uncomfortably at the last man in the room, who had called the meeting and who now waited with a patience that could wear down stone. He had stayed on to research some things he wasn’t supposed to even know about. After two years he knew more than anyone except, perhaps, the Sisters themselves. He had discretely contacted the others in his order and all had, in the end, agreed with him. The information would never be recorded, anywhere, until after the fates had played their hand.

After a while the younger Rimares joined them. He did not look happy. He started to hand the man who had called the meeting something long, bundled in cloth.

“Burn it. In something hot,” said the man.

“After what I went through to keep her from seeing it on the beach?”

The man just gave hime a dark look.

Birch eyed the bundle of cloth, very afraid she knew exactly what was in it.

“It was definitely sabotage,” Rimares said. “I found the remains of a magicked charge right where the equipment blew out.”

“How did they know what to blow up,” Rimares, Sr. asked.

“That’s what worries me. Whoever did it knew an ancient ship well enough to know what would break it. Shorted the entire thing out without shutting down power. So far as I can tell, it was even keyed to trigger when she was hooked in to the nav.”

Birch sat up in surprise and immediately realized her mistake. As Rimares helped her settle herself slowly back, she hissed a “Why?”

“Peri,” said the man who had called the meeting.

Rimares. Sr. sighed. “I thought she would be safe here. Not very happy to be wrong. Still, it took them two years to find a way to get at her, and seems like they were afraid to act in the open. Accidents are always so convenient.”

“I’m sorry,” Birch whispered, “You told me to protect her and I failed.”

“She’s fine,” said the man.

“But–“

“No buts.”

Rimares, Sr. cleared his throat. “We didn’t come here to accuse you. You are the only witness.

We need you to tell us what happened.”

“I don’t know. There was an explosion–“

“After you jumped.”

“After I … jumped.” Birch lay in silence for a while. No one said anything. They just waited. The bundle, which Rimares had left on the bed, taunted her.

“I grabbed her and jumped to get of the ship. I figured I could break her fall and she should would come out only mildly injured. But somehow she came off without–“

“What really happened,” said the man, in a voice that made it clear he knew.

Birch looked at the people around her, feeling fear crawling into on her.

“Dammit! It’s sitting right there,” said the man.

Birch squirmed uncomfortably in the hospital bed. She stared at the bundle like it was screaming at her. Tears and words started flowing out of her.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t understand what happened. I jumped but didn’t get far enough out. One of the engine pods clipped my foot. I landed wrong. Terribly wrong. Her arm was under me as we hit the ground. I felt it. There were some sharp rocks there. I felt them drive into my back where her arm had been. I lost my grip. I couldn’t hold on. Too many things broken. She went flying across the beach. I could hear her slam into the rocks. She hit hard.”

Birch’s voice shook with the fear and pain of the moment coming back to her. She couldn’t lift her eyes from the bundle on the bed. “I was sure she was dead. I hadn’t slowed her down enough. I could feel her severed arm lying under my back, still twitching. I couldn’t even move my head to see what happened to her. Then I heard her screaming. She was running toward me screaming my name. She’s not– How could she–”

“Finish the story,” said the man.

“I managed to move my head a little, enough to see her there. She wasn’t even scratched. Even her uniform was in one piece. I wondered if maybe it was a dream, caused by the pain, and we were both dead. It was her, but she looked … wrong.”

“Wrong,” asked the man.

Birch searched for the words. A new fear gnawed at her. It told her she was missing something. Something dangerous. “She seemed to flicker like– She was wrapped in– It was like there were two different people were running toward me wrapped in the shadows of the Away. I could feel myself being dragged in toward her. When she reached me it was gone, but before she did– Her face was– Her hair. Her eyes. They were all wrong. They looked– They looked like–“ Birch’s head snapped up to face the man and her eye’s went wide.

“Sisters,“ she hissed.

The man spat unceremoniously on the floor. “Would be someone who knows what she looks like,” he said.

“At least Nona remembered to cover her ass this time,” said the senior Rimares.

Dr. Pac said nothing.


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