Deathwalker 8.1

            “MiniDoc off,” I ordered. There was no discernible response, but I knew the kit had shifted from autosleep to off, a distinction that could save me considerable pain and trouble if something happened before I got a chance to recharge it.
            “It is finished?” Metz asked. Her eyes were aimed at my arm like a focused laser.
            “Cleaned, closed, and covered,” I replied as I reached up my sleeve to remove the device. Feeling Metz’s gaze on me, I resisted the urge to inspect the wound myself. Later.
            “You trust the device that much?” Again, her eyebrows raised, and again, something about them seemed off. “I had heard they were unreliable. And the captain was very concerned that the wound be properly treated.”
            A rough laugh burst from the dim seating area. It sounded like gravel over glass, and the entire group started like a surprised herd. Everyone but Metz. Her focus was truly disconcerting.
            “Oh, well phrased, doctor!” the deep voice guffawed. “Very diplomatic!”
            I peered into the darkness where I vaguely remembered legs being earlier. About… there. I could make out was the vague impression of a humanoid. But whoever he was, he was going to give himself a hernia laughing that hard.
            “Did you catch that, kid?”
            “Well?” Metz’ melodious voice was calm, completely unperturbed by the noise beside us.
            “Hmm?” I responded automatically, caught up in the gales of laughter coming from the shadows. “Catch what?”
            “Deathwalker Sephtis.”
            Her stern tone finally dragged my attention away from the mystery man. Too late, I registered the tense expressions of the rest of the crew. What now?
            “Is the device reliable?” Metz asked it calmly – as if the interruption had never occurred. As if the man weren’t still chuckling to himself. Although the outburst was dying down a bit.
            “Um…,” I floundered, “well, it depends on the model.” And who modified it. “Mine’s lower-end but good enough for minor cuts like this one.” Or when I don’t have a Kaihmi doctor handy.
            “Hmmm.” She wasn’t sold. Any second, she would insist on seeing the wound herself. Now that it was sealed, it would be less risky. Still.
            “And as I told the captains, this,” I said quickly, gesturing to my arm, “is far too small to worry over. I would be horribly rude to monopolize a doctor’s time with such a scratch.”
            This time the burst of laughter was even louder.
            “Rude to monopolize the doctor’s time,” the low voice chortled. “Nat’ll love that.”
            “It is no trouble.” The doctor continued as if she couldn’t hear the mocking laughter. That was a little too much. Her expression hadn’t changed since that slight smile, but the Light One’s lips were pressed together, Gri’s nostrils had flared, and someone behind me might’ve growled.
            “That’s right, kid,” the man snorted. “She’ll only be in trouble if you refuse. Oh, this is golden!”
            “Farisss,” Gri’s annoyed hiss sounded strangled. Judging by the low laughter, the man sprawled on shadowed couch wasn’t phased in the slightest.
            “Don’t you see it? You’ve got them in a corner now, kid! They can’t hold you down and heal you, or they might hurt you. They can’t let you heal yourself, or Nat might hurt them! What a conundrum!”
            Gri spun around to glare down at the man. Instead of sitting up, the man lounged deeper into the cushions – still chuckling to himself in that rough growl.
            “What? Upset because you’ll have to tell Nat the kid took care of himself instead of letting her get points back?”
            Captain Nat. Doesss. Not. Hhurt. Hher. Crew.” Gri towered over the man. Rows of diamond-sharp teeth flashed as he snapped off each word.
            “Riight,” the man jeered, completely unintimidated. “Just passengers.”
            With a soundless snarl, Gri dove forward. In that instant, a strange, high-pitched sound blasted through the room. Wincing, I hunched over and covered my ears. A glance showed me the rest of the crew in similar positions. Except Metz. She swayed for an instant, then stumbled, and sat abruptly. Her eyes were tightly closed, and a fine shudder ran through her. I watched, dazed.
            After a moment, Gri dropped his hands and straightened, shaking his head as if to clear it. Cautiously following his lead, I heard his low-hissed curse. Then, two gigantic hands covered my shoulders and applied gentle but inexorable pressure to the right. Faced with the choice of moving or being moved, I shuffled swiftly to the side. The hands and pressure disappeared, and Kith stepped past me to Metz and knelt beside her.
            “Al,” he said in a soft, reproving tone that was somehow more dangerous than Gri’s snapping teeth.
            “I forgot where I was.” The other giant stepped forward to kneel on Metz’ other side, concern in his chocolate eyes. “Sorry, Metz.” His voice was surprisingly high but extremely rich and rounded, even in a whisper.
            Silence settled over the room, and even the man in the shadows seemed disinclined to break it. No one moved. Watching Metz with the others, I found myself holding my breath. It felt like an eternity, but I’m sure it took only a few seconds for her expression to steady. Then, she opened her eyes and dispelled the enchantment: the tableau broke, and the room breathed a collective sigh.
            “A little lower next time, Al.” She turned her head and gave him a mild look. “At least in the kitchen.”


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