Year 353 A.E., Rotation 65: The One Who Pulled the Trigger

Rell held Giana in the back of the crawler that had picked them up as she shivered in his arms, her face pale from loss of blood. The metal body rattled around them, a whistle of wind creeping in through a poorly welded join. He would have checked her fingertips for the telltale blue of shock, but they were gone, along with the rest of her hands, and all he could do was keep the turniquetted stumps elevated.

“Rell,” she whispered, straining at his arms.

“Hush.” He held her closer. “We’ll be at the hospital soon.”

“No, something isn’t right.”

“What isn’t right?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how do you know it’s wrong?”

“Captain’s intuition.”

Rell scowled. There was only so much he could ask of his wife after she’d just been kidnapped by a rogue aeo monster and had both her hands amputated. It was his turn to be the hero right now. He was getting her medical attention with the help of some altruistic passers by. But then again, Giana Coastrunner was rarely wrong.

“Excuse me!” he called toward the front of the cabin. “How far until the city?”

“Not far,” the Captain called back. “How’s she doing?”

“Holding on…” he called back, feeling guilty for his sudden suspicion. These were people who had gone out of their way to offer aid in a time of need. Of course Giana was paranoid. She had a lot of enemies and she’d just been through a harrowing ordeal. But it would be over soon. They’d get to a doctor who could treat the wounds and fit her for clockwork hands. Everything would go back to how it used to be, him spooning chocolate chip cookies onto a sheet while she slow-cooked tomatoes from their garden into pasta sauce, an old record playing in the living room, Vinny’s senior photo hanging over the sink. The ship shuddered as it eased onto its wires and began crossing to the next island. This should be it. Civilisation and salvation all in one.

“Just a little longer,” he whispered.

“Rell, don’t…” She fell limp in his arms.

“Hurry!” he called. He felt the ship accelerate under his feet. He couldn’t remember a time he’d felt more panicked than this since he’d held his wailing son in his arms while Larune hunched over Giana in the corner. But now there was no infant to distract him with duty and new life, just his wife’s body held against his, her blood seeping into his shirt. “Please babe,” he whispered, a whisp of her curly red hair escaping from her ponytail to tickle his lips as he bent down to her ear. “Please be okay.”

The minutes crept by until the ship shuddered as it made coastfall and raised itself onto the bank.

“Almost there now!” said the captain. His companion walked over to Rell and Giana. He offered Rell a hand up. His grip was firm, but somehow did little to steady Rell as the crawler lifted itself onto its legs and made a speedy trek toward the hospital.

“Thank you.” Rell made to pull away, but the other man held tight. It was then that Rell noticed the maroon pin on his lapel. His lip curled, but his savoir was expecting resistance. He wrenched Rell’s arm behind his back and fastened his wrists together with cuffs that dug in, cold and sharp against his skin.

“No–thank you,” said the man with a smile that etched across his face like a crack through glass. “I couldn’t believe my ears when I picked up Rellion Coastrunner’s emergency beacon broadcasting through the void.”

“What do you want with us?” hissed Rell.

“Well that’s up to Swift, now, isn’t it?” he said.

Rell bristled as the captain took his crawler down a poorly lit alley that probably didn’t lead to a hospital and put it in park. He stalked to the back and lifted Giana like he was a fresh groom about to carry his bride over the threshold to a new life. But it wasn’t life that waited for them in that dark alley. Rell had turned a blind eye toward plenty of things in Giana’s professional life, but he wasn’t naive enough to believe anything but the worst.

Rell looked out for landmarks as his captor tugged him from the crawler. He briefly glimpsed a street sign for the corner of Eighth and Commerce, before his captor shoved him through the door of an abandoned-looking building, and hooked the bindings on his wrists to a ring on the wall. The room was dark and smelled of rotting wood, dust, and the feint musk of mildew. 

“She needs medical attention,” said Rell. He nodded his head to Giana, who they’d left draped on the floor in the corner. “If your goal is to let your leader have some sort of revenge, you’re going to miss your chance if you leave her in a dusty corner.”

“Swift is almost here,” said the man with another smile. “And who said it’s the Captain she wants revenge on? It was you who pulled the trigger, ‘Lieutenant.’”

Hot realization flushed through Rell’s cheeks and trickled down through his whole body to pool in his stomach, followed by fear and then…a strange sort of relief. He remembered that day in vivid, visceral imagery. The lamp Giana brought to life breaking itself across Lenomar Swift’s face, then slicing his throat, his blood soaking into his paperwork, dripping from his desk onto the carpet, his daughter stumbling into the room, her eyes, first grief stricken, then angry, staring up the barrel of his own gun. She’d just been a child. She hadn’t seen everything that happened. She hadn’t understood.

“A child for a child,” Giana had muttered, and he’d been relieved as he’d lowered his gun. He knew he would have done it. For her. For them. He never would have slept again, but he would have done it. Maybe, and he hated that he was even thinking it, but maybe he should have.

Just then, the rusty door to the outside opened and a woman in a maroon dress stepped inside. She was older than he expected her to be, her long raven hair wisped with gray. Half a decade from retirement at the most. Somehow he’d been waiting for that broken 16-year-old from his nightmares to step into the room, but time had gone on, as much as he felt stuck in that moment right now.

“Serapha,” he said.

“Shut up.” She crossed the room, pulling a gun from her holster, and spun it around in one hand to strike him in the face with the grip.

He reeled, seeing stars but still alive. 

“You killed Daddy,” she said.

“It was…” Giana started from the corner.

“It was a long time ago,” Rell said, loud enough to drown her out.

“That doesn’t matter.”

“Does it matter that I regret it?”

“No.” Serapha shut her eyes, a telltale hint of moisture glittering at the lids.

“You’ve made him proud, I’m sure,” said Rell. After all, she’d multiplied the suffering he’d put out into the world by tenfold at least.

“I don’t want you to tell me that.” She made a show of opening the pistol’s barrel and ejecting its ammunition. Rell breathed a sigh of relief. Then, he watched her slide a single silver bullet into the chamber, cock it, and aim it at his forehead. “I wanted him to tell me that, and it’s your fault he can’t.”

“Please!” Giana dragged herself forward on the stumps of her arms. “Don’t! He didn’t…”

Serapha pushed Giana away with the flat of her boot. “Groveling doesn’t become you, Captain. Besides, a husband for a father. It’s only fair.” She pulled the trigger and the last thing Rell heard was his wife’s anguished cry.


Giana tried to do something, anything, as Serapha Swift raised the gun to execute her husband for her own cries. But her body was broken, and as much as she would have liked to turn the gun in Serapha’s hand back around on her, she couldn’t force any more magic through the bloody stumps of her wrists.

Instead there was just the sickening splash of red on the wall behind Rell, the echo of the gunshot through the room, her own voice crying into the night.

“And what to do with you, Captain?” Serapha turned toward her, her henchman forming into tight formation behind her. “Even if I were to naively assume you innocent in the circumstances of my father’s death, there’s no doubt you and yours have plagued me and mine for decades.”

“I wasn’t the plague. I was the cure,” Giana choked.

“Oh you were the cure, were you?” Serapha’s lip curled. “Then why didn’t you listen to him?” She bobbed her head toward Rell’s body slumped against the wall.

Giana looked away.

“He was right, you know,” said Serapha. “If you really wanted to stop our empire, you would have turned Daddy over to the inquisition. They would have taken our cred, our ships, everything they could get their hands on. Instead it all went to me.”

“Your point?” Giana spat.

“You were never a fucking cure. You were just a virtue signaling profiteer earning your own riches off of our innovations.”

“At least we weren’t earning them off of people’s suffering.”

“But weren’t you?” Serapha reloaded the gun. Common lead bullets for a common criminal. “Anyway, just thought I’d leave you with that thought.” She aimed, and there was nothing Giana could do but screw her eyes shut and wait for it all to end. She heard the shot before she felt it. Then she realized she never felt it. Then she heard two more. She opened her eyes to see more blood spattered across the grimy floor and a green glowing gun that she’d never seen before balanced by itself on the floor. The two henchmen lay dead and Serapha squirmed on the floor, clutching her shin as a bullet wound bled through her dress. As Giana watched, a green glowing switchblade cartwheeled across the floor and slit Seraphas throat.

“What the voids…” But Giana had run out of adrenaline. In a rush of red and green and hazy light, her spinning head collided with the paving stones and everything went black.


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