The Heliopause was headed towards Luxor and I was struck with a sudden gloom that seeped into my very bones. One of the few faults of the majestic ship was that the tubs were rusted out in some places making for quite an uncomfortable bathing experience. Jericho probably hadn’t noticed since most men found bubble baths undignified, but I happened to be quite fond and in desperate need of a comfortable soak. I had to dispel this emotional chill somehow, though, so I settled for a standing shower and set it to the highest temperature I could stand.
“Get a grip, Eddy,” I muttered to myself, placing a flat, wet palm on my chest. The rhythm of my heart was slightly erratic so I took several deep breaths. My nightmare about Captain Jericho seemed to be affecting me in unusual and frightening ways.
I had always by nature been a creature of logic when it came to love and boys, not lowering myself to the gossip and games of other young ladies my age. I couldn’t grasp how this strange man had crept under my skin and flipped my foundation upside down.
I heard the lavatory door click open and then came Aster’s small voice. “Eddy, are you in here? One of the crewman said he saw you come in.”
“Yes, it’s me,” I sighed heavily. “Is there something wrong?”
“Quite the opposite, actually. Jacer is flying the Heliopause! You must come and take a look. He seems so…at ease,” she gushed, unfolding a towel for me.
So suddenly Aster was fawning over Jacer? Hadn’t she only recently been frightened nearly to death of him? She must want all the men for herself, cheeky little minx. My head buzzed with all of these unsettling and foreign thoughts. Aster really didn’t mean any harm…
I reached to turn off the water spigot and almost lost my balance. As I gripped the wall to steady myself, my vision swam and almost blurred out completely.
“Aster…” I said shakily. “Could you help me turn the water off? I’m having a bit of trouble.”
“Of course, Eddy, are you—“ She had pulled back the curtain to help me but stopped short when she saw my face. “Good lord, Eddy, you look awful!”
I swayed on my feet and could feel my consciousness dwindling. “Now that you mention it, I feel awful.”
The world went black and when there was light again I realized that I was strapped down to a medical cot with only a thin sheet covering my nudity. I was also on fire. Screaming with pain and rage I attempted to rip free of my bondage.
“Eddy, stop.” I heard Jacer’s soothing voice and stilled. He placed cool hands on the sides of my face. “You already have bruises on your arms and legs from fighting your restraints while unconscious. You absolutely must calm down so you don’t sustain any further harm.”
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked, nearing hysteria.
“Captain Jericho says you’ve gotten something called Sand Fever,” said Aster from across the room. She was eyeing me warily and chewing hard on her bottom lip.
I could feel her anxiety even though she was nowhere near me, and my body started to twitch against my bindings without my consent. “Let me free, I’ve got to get out of here! Where’s Jericho?” I growled, balling my hands into angry fists.
A door slid open and Jericho strode over to my side, looking down at me with a grimace. There was a deep gash just above his right eyebrow that was sporting three small stitches. “I’m right here, little birdy. You know, all the cases of Sand Fever I’ve seen were contracted from kissing the wrong sort of individual if you catch my meaning.”
“I haven’t been kissing anyone!” I seethed. “Now let me go, I’m fine!”
“Well that explains why you’re always so uptight, but it doesn’t exactly solve the mystery of how you contracted your ailment.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively, sending me into another quivering fit of unexplainable irritation, and causing Jacer to grip my shoulders comfortingly, stilling me once more. “No, you and your claws are staying right here where it’s safe for you and everyone else. This scar is going to be the most interesting yet.” He tapped his eyebrow and shook his head.
I felt my body temperature rise sharply and my vision began to blur again. “What happened to your face?” I asked, struggling to focus my eyes.
He laughed. “Why you did, my delirious friend. You saw my face and started screeching like a banshee, and kept calling me a sky monster. I tried to calm you down and you took a chunk out of my forehead.”
I groaned in embarrassment and I’m sure I would have blushed if I wasn’t so angry and my skin wasn’t already a million degrees.
“Forget your menial flesh wound and stop with the obtuse humor,” Jacer snapped, surprising us all. “From what I gather you use it as a defense mechanism but it’s hurting Eddy and she has been through enough. Sand Fever can progress from minor hallucinations to convulsions and even death. Do you have the proper medicines to treat it, or don’t you, Captain?”
Jericho sized Jacer up for a moment before nodding stiffly. “Not long before you lot joined us I made the crew medic walk the plank for thievery. We were already low on supplies but luckily there was a small bottle of the antibiotic you’ll need. I just hope it’s enough.”
“When you say ‘walk the plank’, you mean what exactly?” Aster spoke up, her face pale with horror.
“I mean, we threw him from the deck of the ship to his death,” said Jericho, his expression hard.
“That’s disgusting…” said Aster softly. “You punish one crime with another? Don’t ships have brigs to lock people up when they do wrong?”
The corners of Jericho’s mouth twitched. “You seem to be forgetting a few key facts about me, Miss Aster. Not only am I a pirate, I’m the bloody captain. I do what it takes to keep these men alive and this ship afloat; there is no room for conscience. In times of strife, my men look to their fearless leader for strength. If I let a man live who steals from me then I am weak, and what good is a weak captain?”
Even in my delirium I could tell this was only a soft shadow of what Jericho truly wanted to say.
Aster stood her ground against the storm in Jericho’s gaze. “Is no one in your eyes capable of redemption?”
They glared at each other for several heated seconds before Jericho turned to Jacer and placed the vial of medicine in his hand. “Make sure she drinks every last drop.”
Jacer nodded. “And if it isn’t enough to kill the sickness?”
“Then you better hope we make it to Luxor before she succumbs.”