A type of cannon projectile commonly used during the age of sailing ships. Formed by two partial cannonballs having been connected together by a metal chain. Despite being much more powerful than normal cannonballs, they were rarely used, lending mostly to the fact that they could only be accurately launched at a very short distance.
In order to maintain the structural integrity of the cannon, it is very important to handle the chains with care.
After waking up, I wiggled my back without trying to get out of bed, checking to see if there was still any pain.
Everything felt normal, even after stretching out my arms and sitting upright, which led me to assume that whatever overtook me the night prior had gone away. A pinched nerve, I convinced myself. An absolute megafuck of one, but at the end of the day, nothing out of the ordinary.
Yeah, sure. That’d work.
I slid my hand across the sheet to reach Led, laying it against his chest. Still sleeping, although it was hard to even tell, with how light his breathing was. I stayed still for several long minutes, letting his chest carry my fingers up and down as I cleared some of the night dust out from my brain.
Carefully pulling back my hand, I shimmed back to the edges of my side of the bed, reaching towards the bedside counter to look for Ellis. I’d set him down right next to the side of the lamp that centered the table, making him easier to find. My fingers brushed up against the base of the fixture as I picked it up, and I spent some time feeling it up, unsurprised by the complexity. Flowery metal ridges, probably colored gold or silver, coated its entire length, giving it a rich, ornate feel.
I’d never given much of a shit about interior design, even prior to losing my sight, but there was something interesting about analyzing overdesigned decorations like that from my current perspective. It made the pointlessness of it that much more obvious, that much more stupid. How much extra would they charge for the lamp versus a regular one, I wondered. It would’ve needed to be a lot, for a feel like that.
Picking up my phone, I tried getting the time. There were two main ways of using Ellis, either via voice command or through touch. Voice command was simpler, especially for something like the time, but I’d have to speak loud enough to risk waking Led up.
Touch was annoying, but I’d mostly gotten used to it, by that point. I’d never actually needed to change the overlay to my phone; instead, the same program that provided Ellis enabled recognition by touch, which let me know what was on the screen without me needing to see it. If I tapped an icon or button once, Ellis would read out what it was, with it actually activating only after I double-tapped. It was slow, but far more reliable than voice command, which had a dogshit track record of accurately understanding what I was trying to tell it.
My earbuds were still plugged into it, and I found the end of one and stuck it in my left ear, tapping the top right corner to get the time. 12:06, just past noon. A solid six hours. Less than I normally got, but I had to suck it up and stay awake, lest I ruin my sleep schedule.
I browsed through Ellis, touch-tapping my way back to an article I’d found a few days ago about the allegations against President Yankovic. On general principle, I hated listening to the news, but a shitshow that big was irresistible. Nineteen percent approval rating, according to what Ellis was reading out. Hilarious, how that all ended up working out.
Poor Al. Video surfaces of you secretly ordering one little government coup in Latin America, suddenly the whole world’s out to get you. Ridiculous, how quick they were to judge. Maybe it would’ve gone fine, bloodless and peaceful, free accordions and American flags for every newly liberated citizen. They didn’t even give the guy a chance.
Ellis was a great reader, for how shit he was with everything else. For folks willing to shell out the cash, there were some excellent text-to-voice applications out there, ones that could imitate natural human tone and cadence almost perfectly. For a little extra, you could get celebrities or imitators for the base sounds, allowing just about anyone to serve as your own personal reader. After getting the device and trying out all the options, I had eventually settled with Orson Welles, who sounded positively enthralled to be telling me when the first impeachment vote was to be held.
Losing interest, I had Ellis pause, putting him back on the table. I had to go to the bathroom.
I hadn’t gotten the chance to properly explore the room yet, but with the misery of nine long future months staying in it, it made sense for me to start getting to know it as soon as possible. Better to do it then instead of waiting for us to leave, when the waves and the rocking of the ship might fuck up my balance. If I tripped or got stuck somewhere, I’d just call for Led.
Standing up, I felt around the floor with my foot for my cane, retrieving it. I did a sweep around me and found the closest wall, keeping contact as I did a full sweep of the perimeter. I made it past three large corners, identifying desks and bookshelves, a porthole, and a television screen large enough to take up an entire section of wall.
Large parts of the room conveniently had handlebars mounting the walls, but that wasn’t because we’d been placed in a special room for my sake; in a ship created for the dead and dying, every passenger room was built with accessibility in mind, the gaps between everything large enough for a wheelchair to get through.
I found my way to the bathroom, picking it apart from the entrance from the fact that it had no top locks. I didn’t have much experience yet in maneuvering around in places that I wasn’t familiar with, so I felt a little self-congratulatory in having made it without getting Led up. The feeling was dampened somewhat when I heard him shifting around in bed.
“Just went to bathroom. I’m fine. Go to sleep.”
He didn’t reply, but I heard him start to move less than a few seconds later, practically dashing out of bed. Brushing past me without another word, he opened the door I’d made it to, entering before I could get the chance. With the door still swung open, I heard him start to unravel toilet paper.
“The fuck, Led. I was here first.”
“I’m sorry. Ten seconds, I promise. Not even going.”
“So wait, then.”
He took a second to reply, unraveling more. Cleaning, I realized.
Ugh. Not typical Led, being that gross.
“Just… there, that’s it. Sorry. Really sorry.”
Flushing, he came back out, shutting the door again, so I’d be able to find the knob.
“Are you like, five? Do we need to have the fucking clean toilet talk? You piss, you wipe. Guys are fucking animals.”
“…Not what you think. Honest.”
“It was mold, Hallie. Really.”
I could practically hear the grin growing on his face; he was going to try to salvage his dignity by joking about it. It pissed me off, because it was something that he’d picked up from me, which meant it was going to work.
Total bullshit. I was supposed to be the one emotionally manipulating him! Snark was my business; he had sincerity. The pisswipe needed to stay in his fucking lane.
“I mean it. Saw a giant black spot on the toilet last night. Deadly fungus, I’m sure. I got most of it before going to sleep, but a few spores must have survived, since it was back to full force this morning. You should be thanking me. If you’d sat down, heck, you probably wouldn’t have survived. I’m a hero.”
“You’re an ass.”
He trailed off.
“Look, piss on whatever you want, but don’t go around stealing my shtick. Acting inconsiderate and downplaying it with sarcasm is my contribution to our relationship, not yours. If I have to start being the responsible one, this is over. Got that?”
“Oh my god. Oh my god…”
I stuck my tongue out, smiling.
“I’m serious, Led. You already got what you needed from the cash, but remember, I’m the one they want. They’ll probably toss you overboard if I asked them nicely enough. You’re tempting fate.”
He didn’t respond.
Not like Led at all, to not answer back. Him seriously trying to banter was out of character, but him ignoring me was out of this world. Something was wrong.
I called his name out a few more times as I tried quickly but carefully making my way over to the bed, sweeping the floor on the way there. I was ninety-percent sure that he’d gone back to sit after walking away from me, and I was right, finding him lying face up on the bed.
To account for the miracle situation where he had just magically fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation, I tried yelling his name right next to his face, getting no response. I screamed that I was absolutely serious, still getting nothing. Not a joke.
I did two quick checks, for breathing and pulse. The former was normal, but I had no clue what to make of the latter, not sure what how to interpret the rhythm I felt after pushing my fingers against his neck. It seemed fast, but how the fuck was I supposed to know if it was too fast? And fast was good, right? At least fucking better than nothing, better than super slow. He couldn’t have been having a heart attack then, right?
A stroke, I guessed. I didn’t know how strokes worked. It was like a heart attack for the brain, I vaguely remembered. Would blood still be pumping, if that were the case? I didn’t have a fucking clue. All I knew was that people suddenly going not conscious was very very bad, regardless of the specifics.
I started screeching for help as loudly as I possibly could, realizing the futility almost immediately. Our room cabin, I remembered Nate rambling on about, was close to the center of the ship, meaning that all surrounded us was more passenger rooms. Empty passenger rooms, because of the Junefly swarm.
There might have been crew nearby, but I couldn’t count on it. On the off-chance that there was, I kept screaming while making my next move, a well of options flooding my head, all within seconds.
Leaving and looking for help was a bad choice. I could get out into the hallway, but if there was nobody there, I’d have to try to find a proper exit to it, which would take way up far too much time. Main hallway, side hallways, maybe elevators, whatever came after. Too many unfamiliar variables to overcome, no promise of finding help.
Ellis. Better, but not good enough, timewise. I could call an emergency number easily with voice command, but even if they went through the fastest option of informing the ship’s crew of what was happening, there were too many lines of communication for it to pass through. I call the cops, the cops call the cruise line, the cruise line calls the ship, the ship calls the workers to deal with it. Good enough for a last resort, but not my best choice, considering the time pressure.
999, I remembered Nate having drilled into our heads the night prior. The number to call for anything. And it didn’t even have to be that, probably. Any number reaching anyone on the ship was good enough, if I called it from the right phone.
With my throat already raw, I backed up from Led less than a few seconds after checking his pulse, making my way over to the side of the bed where he’d been sleeping. My bedside table hadn’t had the phone, so if there was one in the room, it was probably on his.
Bingo. I found it, running my fingers over the keys, looking for big ones. Finding the main group, I almost went ahead and pushed the one farthest to the bottom right, suddenly moving my fingers up and checking to see if there were nine or twelve.
Twelve. Which meant that would have been the pound sign. I moved one up, triple-pressing, finally taking a break from screaming. They were quick to answer. I interrupted the lady after her first word, spurting out our room number and the word emergency, that someone had collapsed.
Someone who wasn’t here to die, I added.
They’d been fast, to their credit. One minute, if that. Four or five people, maybe more, had made it to my room that quickly, loading him up on the stretcher, zooming him out. A female crew member who sounded to be in her forties took my hand and led me in whatever direction they were taking him, telling me that it was going to be fine, reassuring me. She had us walk slower than I wanted her to, over-accounting for my limp. I wobbled, but it didn’t keep me from going fast.
I didn’t even need to try to put The Doll out. It just came. I felt like a little kid, every negative scenario running through my head, jumping to the absolute worst of the worst. Brain tumor, stroke, aneurysm, all fatal. Led, dead or a vegetable. Maybe only because we’d gone on the ship, because he just had to have the fucking money, to fix something that was never his fault in the first place.
We made it to a room they told me was a waiting room, and the woman and I waited, her continuing to comfort me, telling me that she was sure he’d be fine. I wasn’t even angry about the lying, although I wanted her to go away. But I didn’t say anything, just sitting and shaking my head, losing my fucking mind.
Twenty minutes into it, a doctor came out, quickly introducing himself. He sputtered out some words, but he knew there were only a few I really cared about, and he got them out as soon as was possible.
The first bunch of words, confirmation that he’d be fine. Severe dehydration, apparently. As if that made sense, I almost said. But there was something else they found, so they had to take care of it, something fairly serious. Something requiring immediate surgery.
Then he said two more words. I blinked, not understanding.