Burial At Sea


ff_else_icon.gif ff_natalie_icon.gif ff_silas2_icon.gif

Scene Title Burial At Sea
Synopsis Oh that it were in my power and that I had the strength to bring you back to light from the dark of death with oars on the sunken river.
Date April 27, 2020

It’s been two months.

Silas Mackenzie has been watching a storm on the horizon for sixty some-odd days since he’d come to the Starling, since he’d met its captain Natalie and her stow-away come first-mate Jenny. Two months trapped on a rusting barge adrift in the Gulf Stream, with less than ten days remaining before the east coast of the United States is out of radio range and all hope of rescue is gone for years.

The motorized lifeboat clinging to the side of the Starling taunts Silas every day. A vessel he could take to freedom, but one without enough range to get him anywhere other than the middle of the ocean. Gulls nest in the boat, their soft cries a reminder than the decaying old hospital ship is still near land. But there are less gulls by the day, like grains of sand slipping through an hourglass.

It’s been two months, and time is running out.

The Starling
Adrift in the Atlantic

April 27th
7:18 pm

“Static, static static,” is how Else chooses to greet Silas as he watches the distant flicker of lightning on the horizon. “The radio’s been nothing but static.” She settles down to sit beside Silas on the stairs overlooking the starboard side of the ship, drawing her knees up to her chest and arms around her legs.

“Do you think we’ll wind up in Never-Never Land if we keep sailing straight on ‘till mornin’?” Else asks, resting her cheek against the back of her knees, keeping her own vigil over the same storm Silas is.

Silas glances over at Else as she makes her presence known. He nods, but offers no words of greeting; the sight of the storm growing before them leaves him in a quiet mood.

Even in his current gray study, though, he can't quite keep the corners of his lips from twitching up into a momentary smile at the mention of Never-Never Land. "Never-Never Land, huh?" he echoes. He mulls it over for a moment, then shakes his head. "Pirates and Lost Boys, crocodiles and mermaids…"

Now he turns from the storm, glancing to Else. "Maybe so? Who can say?" he says with a grin… though even that looks more solemn, more tired, than it might once have been.

Slowly, his eyes drift back to the storm — the Storm. "I've sailed into the Stormfront, a time or two, but I've never heard tell of what lies beyond." He gives a tiny shrug, still staring at the storm. "Maybe we'll find out. Maybe things are better over there, across the sea."

“Three outta’ four here ain’t bad.” Else says. It seems opaque at first, until Silas considers the pirates, mermaids, and lost people he’s met along the way. Just a giant, ticking crocodile shy of a full Neverland.

Turning to look away from the storm, Else sets dark eyes on Silas. “Is that it then? Picked up the ol’ towel only to throw it in? Ready to lay down and let the sea claim you?” Her brows rise slowly. “Do you need me to sing Yellow Submarine again?” For the hundredth time.

The pressure of Else's gaze is heavier even than the looming storm; Silas looks over to meet it. Even he can't quite suppress a grimace at the threat mention of Yellow Submarine, though. Jesus. She can sing, and I'm okay with the Beatles, but if I have to hear Yellow Submarine again I think I'm gonna die.

"Not in this life," he replies mildly. "The sea can have me when I'm dead and cold, and not until, and I've never been one to throw in a towel until I'm good and done with it. But our closest approach isn't going to take us close enough — to anywhere — to do anything other than get pulled into the Stormfront anyway, and probably die at sea."

His own gray-eyed gaze scrutinizes Else for a moment longer; something certainly seems to have her fired up. "Or am I missing something?"

“Oh.” Else says, her mouth maintaining that circle shape with pursed lips. Her dark eyes track from horizon to Silas. “There’s a lad on the radio.” She jerks a thumb over her shoulder.


For a half second, Silas Mackenzie stares at Else. Then he's scrambling to his feet, moving with an energy that was nowhere in evidence twenty second ago. "Why didn't you say so?" he says, grinning fiercely.

Of course, it might not be all roses — hell, it's not been all roses anywhere here since the damn Flood came. But… it's something. A straw to grasp onto, at least. "Thanks!" he says, already moving towards the forecastle. Towards the radio, and the sudden lifeline.

It’s quiet at the front of the ship. The captain isn’t haunting the forecastle this evening. Though her birds are still everywhere. In a way, it means she’s there too. Silas had come to know they were her eyes and ears, that she could see through them and — if she needed to — even communicate through them. The crows, at least. The seagulls weren’t good for anything.

«—confirming receipt of distress signal. I repeat, this is the //Shooting Star out of the Delphi Flotilla. We are confirming receipt of your distress signal. Is there anyone out there?//»

Silas’ automated message is still playing. An automated morse code message set through the radio, broadcasting day and night for months. But finally, finally, there was a reply.

Silas slides into the broken down old chair and listens for a moment; sure enough, there's a lad on the radio. Figures. I step out for a smoke break and that's // when we get a call,// he thinks to himself, shaking his head, but that fierce grin is still stretched across his face.

He flips off the switch that's been broadcasting the automated distress signal, and takes over. "Shooting Star, this is the Starling; reading you loud and clear, requesting assistance." He doesn't bother trying to keep the relief out of his voice; little touches like that go a long way in making the transmission seem more genuine.

«Well I’ll be a monkey’s fuckin’ uncle.» Comes the coarse man’s voice over the other end of the radio. «Confirming, I’m speaking with the Starling? Medical ship?»

Footsteps behind Silas herald not Else’s return, but Natalie Gray’s arrival at the helm. She lingers in the doorway, a gray-haired phantom content to allow Silas to continue to be the ship’s voice. Her chin alights, brows furrowed and one hand braces against the doorway. She waits, to see how this will play out.

There’s a splash of water on the deck as a sudden rogue wave jumps out of the ocean and onto the medical ship, only everyone on board knows that it’s not a rogue wave at all, but the red-haired first mate returning from one of her daily dives. Sometimes these dives came with fish or food or resources, sometimes with scouting reports, and today—


Jenny forms out of the puddle, transforming from the liquid into a full person with shimmery tight-fitting clothing and long hair, this time barefoot on the deck. Her outfit looks like a kind of wetsuit, made up of blues and whites and grays reminiscent of the sea that she had been part of a moment ago.

“There’s a boat!” she says as soon as she has a mouth, but then glances at them and then the radio. “It’s not very big, but functional. A tugboat. Probably still about two miles out the way it was moving.” She looks at Silas with a beaming smile, because she knew this was what they had been hoping for, broadcasting daily for.

The sound of footsteps draws Silas's eye. He offers a nod once he sees it's the captain, and pauses for a moment to see if she has anything to say — she is, after all, the captain of this boat. That she remains silent is a message in itself; no course correction needed.

The captain's arrival serves to steady Silas a bit, though. The medical ship? Seems their coarse friend is already acquainted with the ship, which begs… questions. On the other hand, beggars can't be choosers when it comes to rescue, and for all that Silas had been prepared to go sailing off into the Stormfront if that was what was in the cards, he still has a definite interest in not doing that if he can help it. Don't show you're on guard, then. If they don't have bad intentions, getting defensive might spook 'em off. If they do // have bad intentions, still better to let 'em come in unspooked.//

Almost as soon as he's done thinking this, though, the sound of water splashing on deck alerts him that the Starling's first mate is on the scene; Jenny's arrival draws a smile to Silas's lips, one that only broadens as he sees how bright her own smile is. Her enthusiasm is enough to make him beam right back as he looks at her.

Her message draws a puzzled narrowing of his eyes, though. Two miles out? They're pretty close. Was I out Storm-watchin' for that long? It's… not impossible. And it's also possible that Shooting Star's radio can't reach as far as the Starling's can. It's… possible, yes. His gaze slips to Natalie for a moment… then back to the radio. He presses the send button again. "Confirming, yes. This is the Starling, and yes, she's a medical ship. Glad as hell to hear ya, Shooting Star; it's been all quiet for a long time now, and I was starting to be afraid that there wasn't anyone out there to hear me. I'm hoping you might be able to give us a ride back to friendly territory."

«A ride back?» The tension in the voice on the other end doesn’t sit well with Silas. «No, no. I need the Captain of the Starling. I need help.»

Natalie slowly raises her chin, blue eyes downcast on the radio. “He’s here for me. Give him our bearing,” she says with a look to one of her birds, sending it alight. “Tell him to watch for the birds, if he does not know to already.” Natalie offers a look to Jenny, briefly putting a hand on her shoulder, then continues on out of the helm to walk the deck of the ship.

Jenny knows what this sort of meeting is going to entail, she’s been aboard the Starling long enough to know the true secret of its captain and what is expected of visitors. Silas was presumed to be just that, but his damage would be one she could not mend. It was time for the medical ship to once again earn its designation.

«If you need a Taxi you get me to your Captain.» The man on the other end of the radio barks out. «If she’s still alive. Otherwise, no deal.»

From the way Jenny quietly nods, she does know what this means. “I guess whoever it is was actually looking for us,” she muses, but in some ways that is, perhaps, a good thing. “It’s okay, Silas. We’ve done this before,” she reassures him, though there’s also something vaguely wary about her even then. This was a world where people weren’t always kind and didn’t always do things as they expected.

“Do you want me to go out there and follow them in? Get a headcount of the crew?” She lived with the water and danced with the waves, but she also watched sharks prey on the injured and the weak and watched the world tear itself apart. There were always threats waiting in the waters, rough or still.

Silas's eyes narrow, but he nods at the Captain's command, hitting the send button. "Done. Our bearing is as follows," he says, eying the charts and calculating for a moment, then laying out the course. "Captain says to watch for the birds. Over and out."

He switches off the microphone and looks over to Jenny, considering for a moment. "I don't think that'll be necessary; I've got a trick, too, that might come in handy here. If you want to go take a look though…" he hesitates, grimacing a bit. "Just… hurry back safe, okay?"

«Copy, Starling.» The man on the other end of the line confirms. «Be with you shortly.»

There’s something about the whole situation that twists a knot in the middle of Silas’ stomach. Maybe it was just the nearby storm, maybe it was the timing, maybe it was the fear of this still not securing him passage off of a creaking old ship he’s been marooned on. It’s a world of maybes.

“It’s sweet you’re worried about me,” Jenny says with a smile, leaning forward to brush a quick kiss against the older man’s cheek before she suddenly disintegrates into liquid form and flows over the side of the ship, disappearing into the sea.

For all the maybes and uncertainties ahead, that's enough to make Silas grin.

He shakes his head as she flows off into the ocean, just staring after her with that same grin on his face for a moment… then his expression grows more serious. They're about to have guests, after all, and he aims to be there to keep an eye on them, sight unseen. With luck, they won't try anything untoward, and they'll be willing to provide passage. But luck is a finicky mistress, and this is a harsh world; as much as Silas hopes for the best, he aims to be prepared for the worst.

He slides back out of the operator's chair and makes for the deck.

A Short Time Later

Silas could see the Shooting Star approaching long before he hears the engines. The tugboat is precisely as Jenny described it. Gulls are perched on the prow of the small ship, made to seem even smaller next to a massive vessel like the Starling. The birds from the medical ship take to the sky, circling the tug and its sole occupant.

From the main deck, Silas can’t make out much of the Shooting Star’s solitary occupant save for a broad-framed build and a hooded sweatshirt covering his head. But it’s the blue tarp-wrapped bundle about the length of a carpet that the captain hauls from his deck that has Silas’ stomach twisting in knots.

Silas is able to walk the length of the Starling’s deck to where Else has deployed a keelboat on its winch like an elevator. Jenny splashes up from the ocean into the keelboat, soon joined by the Shooting Star’s captain who struggles to carry the weight of what Silas can now tell is a tarp-wrapped body. Else looks over to Silas from her perch at the railing, one brow raised as if to say “you don’t see that every day.” Instead, she flips the lever for the winch, hauling the keelboat up.

Natalie Gray has been quiet since the arrival of the tugboat. She sits in a folding chair on the deck not far behind Silas and Else, knit shawl draped over her shoulders and a large tern perched on the back of her chair protectively. The winch makes a groaning sound in its long haul up to deck level, affording Jenny and the tugboat’s captain the ability to come aboard.

The captain is a much taller man that Silas could tell on a distant look. Broad shouldered, bearded, gruff looking. He is absolutely carrying a corpse in that tarp, though he has the good graces to leave it in the keelboat as he climbs aboard the Starling. He doesn’t offer Silas much of a look, nor Else. Not when he sees the elderly woman sitting at the back of that grouping.

“Ms. Gray…” the captain says, pulling down his hood. “I… I’ve heard you can perform miracles.”


The living wave has returned to the wet-suit, but Jenny still looks almost too clean and perfect for the world that she lives in. Perhaps because every time she reformed as a person again, her body was new, her clothes were new, everything about her was new. Born from the sea as if it had never been a moment before. Her face looks somber as she watches the man with the wrapped body, no longer her usual cheerful smiles and joyful expressions.

There’s sadness in her greenish-brown eyes as she looks toward Ms. Gray with worry. Her Captain, the old Lady. Natalie.

Something about this whole mess has Silas on edge, has his stomach churning. It's not the corpse itself; he's seen plenty of those. He's made a few, too… though nowhere near as many as his evil twin.

No, it's not the corpse that's got him twitchy… it's the fact that the Shooting Star's captain is carrying it around. And Silas thinks he's finally pinned down that tension he heard from the man earlier, too: desperation.

Natalie seems to know what he's here for. Jenny does, too, if her uncharacteristically solemn demeanor is any indication. That's good, because Silas doesn't have a clue.

Their guest apparently hadn't tried anything on Jenny, at least; that was a good sign. Still, that buried desperation makes him nervous. Probably because it reminds him far too much of the person he'd once been.

For now, though, all he can do is stand by and watch tensely, carrying himself with the solemnity that this… whatever it is… seems to call for.

Natalie Gray looks down at the tarp, then closes her eyes and brings one weathered hand to her brow. The birds around her all lower their heads and grow silent as if adopting her affect. “What is this?” She asks without looking.

The Captain of the Shooting Star takes a knee in front of the wrapped plastic without even thinking, his eyes wide and wild. He tugs at the length of rope tying off one end, fights with it, then pulls out a knife and cuts through the thin line. “I need you to bring back the dead,” he says with a quaver in his voice. He sounds small, weak.

Pulling back one corner of the plastic, the captain reveals a corpse inside the blue tarp. A woman, as pale as freshly driven snow save for where her lips are blue and flesh blotched purple and yellow. Her blonde hair spills out around her shoulders like a halo, eyes closed. There is frost on her eyelashes, cold radiating from her body.

She’d been kept on ice.

“She drowned,” the Captain pleads. “Been looking for you ever since. I heard the stories. I—”

“I can’t.” Natalie says as she moves her hand from her face, slowly opening her eyes to look at the dead young woman in front of her. The Captain looks at her with confusion, fishing out a small bag from his jacket.

“N-No, I have payment. Everything.” He throws it down to the deck with a heavy thump. It isn’t clear what’s inside. “Please she’s—”

“Captain…” Natalie says in a leading way, searching his eyes.

“Epstein. Taylor Epstein.”

“Captain Epstein,” Natalie says with a slow shake of her head. “I am a healer, not God.” There is a weariness in her voice. A lack of surprise. This isn’t the first time this has happened.

“She’s my sister,” Taylor barks back with a crack in his voice. “I promised—I promised I’d—”

Natalie holds up a hand and shakes her head. “I physically cannot. You were told tall tales of my ability, Captain Epstein, and for that my heart bleeds for you. But there is nothing I can do for this girl.”

“Emily.” Taylor says in a low whisper. “Her name is Emily.” As if somehow that makes all the difference in this exchange. But it doesn’t. Natalie closes her eyes and touches her fingertips to her forehead, one arm wrapped around her midsection.

“Her name is Emily…” Taylor whispers again, jaw trembling.

As she watches, Jenny grimaces visibly, because as she sees the state of the body she already knows what the answer is going to be before Natalie even says so. The Captain can do many things, but that… “She can’t fix that, Captain Epstein. I’ve seen her help many people since I came here, but this— there are limits to the Starling’s miracles.” She can’t help but feel sadness, though, the knowledge of just how many have died in the past.

Some things can’t be changed. “I’m sorry.”

Oh. Oh no.

That pit in Silas's stomach grows, a terrible sense of empathy for this poor bastard taking root. It feels like a knife twisting in his chest. Because Silas has been here before. Right where this poor bastard is standing — clinging on by his fingernails with despair trying to drag him down into the depths and drown him.

It's made worse — not a lot worse, because it's not possible for this to be much worse — by the fact that he's seen that face before. He knows the girl's name before Epstein ever says it.


The young woman he'd met in a bar after that awful shared dream. The resemblance is undeniable… but that Emily had been alive. Fiercely alive, almost; there'd been a sharpness to her, like the spikes on a hawthorn tree. Whereas this Emily Epstein…

This Emily Epstein has had that sharpness, that fierceness, smoothed away by death.

Silas remains still and silent; he knows well enough that there's nothing he can say here and now that will make anything better.

“That’s a load of shit,” Taylor says without any heat behind his voice, just disbelief. “That’s a load of shit. You—you can do it. You can bring back the dead. I know you can.” He curls his right hand into a fist and it trembles at his side, kneeling in front of his dead sister. The birds see the gesture, crowing loudly. Natalie’s attention is locked on the ghost of a threat.

“Carrion birds,” Else says, facing away from the conversation, looking out over the water. Tay doesn’t seem to hear the comment, and at first Natalie doesn’t pay much mind to it either until she thinks better of it.

Suddenly Natalie Gray is tense, back ramrod straight and jaw clenched. She looks at her birds and they scatter into the air in a sudden cacophony of flapping wings. She turns a balueful, blue-eyed look down at Taylor. “You were followed.

Only now do Silas and Jenny hear the sounds of outboard motors roaring over the open ocean. Following Else’s eyeline, a half dozen speedboats are rapidly approaching from the north, followed by a larger yacht. Natalie’s expression turns into a rictus of anger, hands clenched into fists.

Silas knows what that formation means without anyone having to say it. He’s seen it before.


“Shit,” Jenny says at the site of the formation. “I can try to slow them down, see if I can flood the engine of the yacht at least.“ Pirates are not something they were really ready to handle. They didn’t have the firepower, they didn’t have the manpower. They didn’t even have the weapons. The fog of birds had been one of the things that had kept them safe over time, but—

Here they were. She looks toward the Captain before actually making that move. She would be flooding the engine with herself and whatever water she could control around her, but it might have been enough to stop them for a time. It’s not like the engine would hurt her, right?

Do it.” Natalie says with all the strength she can muster.

The sight of pirates on the horizon has Silas's gaze turning back to Tay, and now there's a different quality to his gaze — something cool and calculating. Appraising. Weighing. Had Epstein been followed? Or had he brought friends?

It's only when Jenny floats her suggestion that Silas's gaze shifts away, regarding her with concern. Jenny's more of a water mimic than a hydrokinetic — he knows that much. Director Don (may he rot in Hell) wouldn't have had a problem with the stunt she's describing, but Jenny? What would happen if she got mixed up with gasoline? Inside an engine? He's willing to bet she wouldn't come out of that as well as she seems to be thinking she would. But that's the thing about mermaids — they go where their hearts tell them, and nowhere else.

Silas's gaze moves on, turning to the Captain, and he squares his shoulders. "Captain. You've given me safe passage and a berth aboard your ship; I'd like to do what I can to help with this," he says. He's still trying to watch Epstein out of the corner of his eye, though — still trying to figure out what part the Captain of the Shooting Star had actually played in bringing this disaster.

“Do whatever you can, then,” Natalie says as she closes her eyes and raises her hands, commanding the flock of birds that nest on the ship. A riot of avian sounds fill the air, terns and seagulls, crows and swallows mingling together with a flight of sparrows. The move as a unified whole, darkening the skies and following the movements of the captain’s hands.

Tay is frozen in place, looking down at his sister’s body, then up with deep guilt to the oncoming ships. He knows the vessels. It’s not just pirates, it's his old business partners. “I got a couple guns on my ship,” Tay says as he forces himself to stand, pausing for a moment to look down at Emily’s body, then turns for the emergency boat, climbing back inside.

Else, without so much as a bit of prompting, leaps inside the boat with Tay and levels a look at Silas that is somewhere between piercing and knowing. But her focus is drawn away by a sudden hellish orange glow coming from the water.

Else and Tay turn around to see a massive plume of flame rising up from some sort of deck-mounted weapon at the head of the yacht. In the same moment Natalie unleashes a scream and grabs at her head as dozens of the birds fly straight into the jet of fire from the flamethrower, their burning bodies hitting the deck and plunging into the water.

“Are you comin’ or stayin’!?” Tay shouts back at Silas, hand on the crank to lower the emergency boat.

After a small nod, Jenny glances toward Silas, saying more than a few words with a look. She’s hoping that whatever he has up his sleeves is enough to really turn the tides in this because she’s not entirely sure she can do more than slow down the yacht. And that’s only if they don’t have alternative forms of movement on the boat.

Without saying anything, though, she turns transparent, a liquid radiance that catches the light and throws a rainbow along the deck, and splashes into the ocean to vanish. They don’t even see her moving toward the boat. She blends in so well with the waves.

They won’t see her coming. They won’t know she’s there— until she seeps her way into the propulsion.

Silas is already on the move, vaulting into the boat with all the grace he can muster. "Let's go," he says grimly. "If you can get us close, I can make sure they don't see me." And from there… he's got his knife, thin and sharp. He's been using it to clean fish for dinner, these past couple of months, but a knife's one of those things that works well for cleaning up a lot of things. "Think you can get us to that yacht?" He'd have rather played hide and seek on the Starling, but… maybe it's better this way. This way he won't be making any messes on the Starling's deck, after he's gone to all the trouble to keep the damn thing swabbed.

“Sure,” Tay says as he slams his hand on the release lever for the lifeboat, sending the two descending toward the churning waves.

“Alive?” Tay bobs his head from side to side. “That’ll be trickier.”


Not Far Away

Six speedboats tears across the choppy surf, skipping on the waves like thrown stones. In their wake, the battered and patched up Yacht Midsummer’s Night ploughs ahead at full speed. Crew stand braced against the deck railing, firing handguns and rifles at the surviving birds that weren’t engulfed in the napalm death of the flamethrower.

A pair of terns come wheeling in from the port side, catching one of the crewmen in the face. He screams, claws sinking into the soft meat of his eye, and he flips over the railing and is sucked under the boat. Another crew member fights with the bird, wings flapping and claws raking, beak pecking at his mouth and nose. He flails into the path of the deck-mounted flamethrower’s stream and immediately catches fire, flailing around until he too falls overboard and plunges into the deep.

The operator of the yacht, a scraggly, bearded man with shoulder length blonde hair looks over the yacht’s helm at the approaching stern side of the Starling. “Get the harpoon gun, we’re gonna skewer that bitch the second she’s in view.”


Captain Mines directs two of his crew who pick up a light tethered harpoon gun typically used for whaling and watches them move to the front of the ship now that the birds have mostly cleared. As Mines pushes the throttle forward, the sudden chug and groan of the engine stalls forward progress. “What the fuck?” Mines hisses, hammering his palm against the yacht’s controls. “What the fuck!”

George!” Mines yells at one of the crew shooting at the Starling, “check the fucking engine, we’re stalling!”

The sharpshooter, George, turns and offers a curt nod to Mines, then runs for the stairs down to the engine access. He stops at the door, shouldering it open with a curse.

What George sees when he enters the engine room is water. Water that somehow found a way into the engine room as a rippling writhing mass. Jenny can’t control enough water to fill the entire room, but she can control enough to do this, especially when she makes up a vast majority of it herself. Each of the tendrils of water is an extension of her own body, an arm, a leg, a finger. Each one seeks out the various electronics and digs into them, a small sizzling as it overheats, but those lost bits of water just get replaced.

That was how it worked. As long as she had access to water, she could replenish herself. As long as her core was stable, she would be. As the door shoulders open, two of the writhing tendrils shift, like eyes toward the door, aware, but with something other than eyes. There’s a shiver through the water, and they draw backward, like eels readying to strike, then race forward.

But they aren’t seeking out the man’s arms, or legs— they are diving for his mouth and nose.

George lets out a gurgling scream as Jenny’s aqueous body invades his lungs through every orifice she can manage. He grasps at the walls, his face, his throat.

Then, he collapses in convulsions on the stairs.


Not Far Away

Bullets whip across the bow of the Shooting Star as the tugboat navigates between two of the lead speedboats cutting a reverse path toward the lead pirate yacht. The speedboat gunners demolish the Shooting Star’s deck, blow out the port side window, showering Silas with glass. Tay leans out the blown out window with a revolver, firing two shots at the retreating boat. He misses the gunner but strikes the pilot in the back of the head.

As the pilot of one speedboat leans over the controls, it accelerates rapidly. Tae quickly turns his focus back toward the oncoming yacht. “Hey! I can get you close but—are you fucking sure about this plan? Why don’t you take the wheel and let me go on board?”

Tay looks at Silas like the old man has a death wish.

"Are you bulletproof and haven't told me?" Silas calls back, trying to stay low — being unnoticeable won't do him much good if he catches a bullet before he gets onboard, and the odds of him landing a shot at these speeds aren't great. "Because if you've got something like that up your sleeve, now's the time to speak up! Otherwise I'll handle it!" Or die, his thoughts oh-so-helpfully chime in. Hopefully not.

“Not bulletproof!” Tay confirms as he ducks behind the helm, hearing a round ricochet around inside the cabin. While he’s crouched, Tay grabs a pump-action shotgun from a shelf under the helm and hands it over to Silas. “Get ready to giddyup then, old man!”

Cutting the wheel sharp to the left, Tay cuts around the rear of the yacht, but as he starts to reorient his tug to face back in the direction of the Starling he sees the error of his previous actions a split second before the speedboat with the dead captain rams the side of the hospital ship, punching a hole in the hull before the small boat explodes inside the vessel a moment later. A massive plume of fire and smoke belches up into the air from the sea-level hole.

Oh shit. Despite the circumstances, Silas's lips curl into a grin of appreciation as Tay hands him a genuine, bonafide antediluvian boomstick. Shotguns don't require a great deal of precision aiming and do a fine job of converting Chuck to ground chuck; definitely a weapon Silas can appreciate.

He is significantly less appreciative of the dead-handed speedboat crashing into the Starling and exploding like a goddamn torpedo. Oh shit, Silas thinks again, his mind immediately flashing to how much fuel the Starling is holding, and how bad things could get if that fire's allowed to burn unchecked. This changes things…

…but it doesn't change what he has to do.

Which, at this particular moment, involves checking his new boomstick to see how many shots he's got, making sure his knife is handy, and getting ready to disrmbark. "Shit. Soon as I'm off, head back to the Starling. Get the captain… and your sister. Time you get done with that, hopefully this boat'll be flying new colors."

And hopefully you won't be dead, that oh-so-helpful voice chimes in. Silas puts it out of his mind, cloaking himself and coming to his feet, getting ready to make his entrance… and pray he doesn't end up falling into the drink, because if he goes swimming this time he's probably screwed.

Tay doesn’t quite know what to expect when he pulls the tug alongside the yacht and watches Silas grab a hold of the aluminum ladder bolted to the side. But as pirates on deck are firing down at the tug they’re completely ignoring Silas on his approach up the ladder. That’s about when Tay realizes a part of what’s actually happening.

Tay punches the accelerator forward, listening to bullets whiz around the cabin as he does. By the time he hears the first shotgun blast the Shooting Star is already taking off from the yacht, and the faceless corpse tumbling over the railing into the sea is a pirate, not Silas Mackenzie. Tay guns the engine, roaring toward the Starling as smoke continues to rise up out of the hold.

Press forward,” Else says from the doorway to the cabin, dark brows knit together and blue eyes locked on the Starling. “Failure is not an option.”

Tay looks over his shoulder at Else, making a the fuck are you still doing here face at her, then turns to look ahead again. His jaw clenches, eyes locked on the ship, on where his sister’s body is.


The Midsummer’s Night

Silas’ boots hit the deck of the yacht with a slap in no small amount of blood from what remains of a mandible of one pirate. Another is just rounding the corner from the cabin, trying to chamber another round in a bolt-action rifle when he slides in blood on the deck, looking around wide-eyed.

Behind Silas, down the stairs to the engine room, he hears churning and gurgling water, the chugging sound of a flooded engine struggling to stay running, and strangled screams. Then silence as both the engine and a pirate die in unison.

Mermaids were this dangerous in myth, too.

In certain mythologies, yes. Mermaids were both the monsters who dragged men to their painful watery deaths and the legendary beauties that called them back again and again. With the death of the pirate and the engine, Jenny pulls herself back together into a flowing tendril of water, writhe their way up the stairs, almost looking for the moment like an—

Octopus perhaps? A sea creature of some kind. Perhaps a sea witch, because as the tendrils form together into a form that looks humanoid on top, it takes on the appearance of a woman. A naked woman. Made of water. With long flowing hair, also made of water. The blood in the water has been gathered up to full out the hair, making it red, while the rest remains mostly clear. Some of the darker water, from the dirty engine, fills the tendrils.

You have angered the sea.

A voice says. It seems to echo out of the water, like the sound of waves crashing together, like lightning and rain, and the hiss of that sound everyone believes they hear when they hold their ear up to a seashell. A tendril whips upward, striking out at the rifle.

Those gurgling, choking noises are all Silas needs to know that Jenny's doing exactly as advertised; he hesitates for a moment, eying the darkened engine room… then he turns away. He should probably be somewhere else about now; there's a lot of work yet to do, and the sooner this boat is taken, the sooner they can make a start of breaking this pirate flotilla's back. He takes a step forward… except here comes someone else to join the fray, dumb and armed and in his way. Great. Immediately, Silas pivots and takes a half step back, flattening himself against the wall —

— and then Jenny rises from below.

There are some things that are both beautiful and terrible. Jenny's managing that right now; he's seen someone with her trick before, but not this particular version. And that voice is something out of his nightmares. Glad she likes me, he thinks, staring for a moment… then he frowns. No time for woolgathering. Step it up.

He debates trying to slip away to continue clearing pirates elsewhere — sneaking up on a mermaid sea witch probably isn't the wisest — but the yacht's only so big. They're bound to meet sooner or later anyway, and better now than when they're both under fire.

So… back to Plan A, still in progress. Silas chambers another shell and sidles a step to the side, slipping past the pirate, and raises the shotgun. Then two things happen: first, he lets Jenny see him, and then, a split second later, the shotgun roars again. It's not pretty, and the only elegance it has lies in speed and brutality; a faint sense of dissatisfaction fills him as another bloom of gore paints the deck. Cleaning up pirates is ugly work but violence and these seas go hand-in-hand. Jobs like this are, unfortunately, sometimes necessary… and between what he's seen of his evil twin's performance and what he's seeing from Jenny now, he's feeling a bit graceless. But performance reviews can wait; right now there's still work to be done, and for this, at least, messy still works.

"Jenny!" Silas calls quickly as the now decapitated pirate tips and falls overboard; he raises his free hand and lowers the barrel of the shotgun to point towards the deck. At least he'd come from behind the pirate; hopefully that'll mitigate the spookiness of him suddenly popping up a bit. "Starling took a hit; speedboat dead-handed right into her and blew up; I saw fire below deck," he calls quickly. "Tay and Else are on the way back to try and do what they can." He raises his eyebrows. "You have plans from here? Or are we taking a yacht?" He pauses for a moment. "Mind, this isn't the kind of place I'd normally take a lady, but I'm game if you are."

It’s in that moment Jenny is cut clean in half by a cable that pulls taut on the deck and sweeps left to right across the ship. The braided metal cable would have killed someone made of meat and bone, instead Jenny simply reforms around the lashing whip after it passes through her. Silas can feel the low harmonic rumble accompanying the cable’s seemingly haunted movement and as he turns to face its source sees another pirate straddling the doorway to the cabin.

Jason Mines glowers in Jenny’s direction, entirely unaware of Silas, whipping the cable back to the left and through her legs to equally no effect. The blonde, bearded pirate lowers his outstretched hand, and his eyes alight to the fusebox on the wall, then back to Jenny as he wrenches it off the wall with a curl of his fingers and a showering series of sparks from the now exposed wiring.

Those clear eyes don’t even shift in the direction of Silas, no visible acknowledgment, but the tendrils pull back and stop writhing in that direction. There’s a hint of a smile gracing her face, debris and blood continue to float amongst her, giving texture and color to what would otherwise be colorless. It’s hard to tell if she’s really speaking because while there’s sound, it’s not really from lips. There’s no movement from her mouth as she gestures with a newly formed hand down at the wire.

Long ago, Jennifer Childs had been in drama school. And modeling. She often looked as if she stepped out of the pages of a modeling magazine, her body freshly newly remade like Venus born from the ocean. Flawless. Her clothes newly formed from leftover matter changed by her ability. Solid matter becoming liquid, becoming solid. Jenny becoming Jenny. Whatever else becoming whatever she needs it to be once again.

“Do you know how long it takes to drown in saltwater? I made it quick for the one downstairs. Invaded more than his lungs. The sea is rarely merciful. And I won’t be if you have hurt the Old Lady.”

She never did leave behind the flair for the dramatic.

And just in case, as she spoke, those tendrils of water that she still had, that dirty extension of herself, had crept out along the deck—

To the feet of the pirates, she can see.

The electricity might evaporate some parts of her, just as the engine had, but there were very few better conductors.

Jenny's got a good poker face, it seems; a hint of a smile touches his own lips. Brava. And then… without warning, the cable lashes out, slicing through the air — through Jenny — with a sound that might as well be snicker-snack for how cleanly it bisects her. Silas's eyes widen… then they narrow as his head swivels. This guy. He's got to be the captain.

So far Scraggly Jack over there is preoccupied with Jenny and hasn't noticed him. That's a state of affairs Silas is very interested in maintaining; he'd just as soon avoid getting turned into bite-sized Snickers snacks, and he has no illusions as to his ability to shrug off what Scraggles is dishing out like Jenny had. Even being in the crossfire would be bad; a glancing blow could probably put a hurting on Silas, even if the enemy captain wasn't even trying to telekinetically pull his pancreas out through his nose.

Unfortunately, it's probably not going to take this guy long to figure out that Jenny isn't the only one raising hell onboard his ship; even discounting the blood on the deck, shotguns are not known for their subtlety, and Jenny obviously isn't armed.

Which means you need to get close enough for a good shot and put this asshole down, pronto. Especially since it looks like he's starting to get creative with electricity. Oh that's bad. Silas doesn't want to be on the wrong end of that combination. He glances down at his feet…

And realizes he's stepped in the blood. He takes a moment to wipe his feet as best he can — all the sneaky shit in the world won't save him if he's leaving tracks — and then chambers a round and starts to stalk, creeping like a shadow to flank the enemy captain…

…and take him down.


The Shooting Star

“Fuck, fuck, fuck/.”

Tay holds the accelerator as far forward as it can go, watching the derelict boats of bird-eviscerated pirates whip past as his sluggish boat navigates toward the listing hulk of the Starling. The pillar of black smoke that belches from the inside of the vessel twists thick and dark into the sky, casting a long shadow over the water.

Pulling up to the side of the massive boat, Tay scrambles out of the cabin and onto the deck, looking up at the starling’s significantly higher deck. Else steps up behind him, a hand on his back and brows furrowed, reassuring.

“How the fuck do we get up there?” Tay turns around to ask her and Else shakes her head. Scowling, Tay cups his hands over his mouth and shouts up at the ship. “Gray! Gray!

Else waits, lips parted in anticipating, watching for the moment that Natalie’s gray-haired head comes into view. The sigh that Else gives on seeing her is palpable. Tay, however, has no such relief.

“You need to abandon ship!” Tay screams up at the deck, looking at the way water is surging into the burning rift in the Starling’s hull. The groaning sound of straining, splitting steel causing him to grit his teeth.

Natalie, unwilling or perhaps unable to yell loud enough to be heard by Tay, looks around on the deck of the Starling and then shakes her head, holding her hands up in a pantomime of helplessness. Tay curses under his breath.

“Hold on!” He shouts up at her, then shoves past Else back into the cabin. He emerges a moment later with a rope in one hand and a heavy winch hook in the other. Tay threads the rope through the eye at one end of the rusted steel hook, doubles the knot, and then looks back up.

Stay back!” Tay shouts, then begins spinning the rope using the weight of the hook to build up momentum. Else watches the circular movement with half-lidded eyes. Once he’s spun the rope up as much as he can, Tay throws it up into the air and the hook soars through the air, arcing over the side of the Starling’s rail. He hauls back on the rope, catching the railing.

“Hold this end.” Tay stresses to Else, holding her one end of the rope. “Make sure it has enough slack to lay flat against the Starling’s hull but don’t let the end fall into the water.

Tay grabs the middle of the rope loosely in one hand, climbs up onto the front of the Shooting Star and leaps off. He swings toward the Starling, trailing the rope behind him into Else’s hands. Tay collides with the side of the Starling on two booted feet. He grunts with effort, hands wound around the thick rope, and begins climbing up the side of the ship as it continues to groan and list away from the hole in the hull.

Don’t explode, don’t explode, don’t explode,” Tay whispers to himself as he ascends the sinking ship’s hull.


The Midsummer’s Night

Pieces of jawbone, teeth, scalp, and hair land on the deck in a growing pool of blood. A red mist swirls in the air, leaving flecks on the white paint of the cabin exterior. The noise of a shotgun blast reverberates through the air, and Silas’ face is dappled in pricks of crimson.

Mines’ nearly headless body lays limp as Silas’ feet. The wires that had been torn out of the ship now hang limp halfway down the cabin wall.

The fighting was over.

“My way would have been slower and more painful— and cleaner,” Jenny says in the same quiet tones that seem to come from the bottom of the sea, even as her watery form now takes on much more red than it had moments ago. The blood dilutes inside the saltwater that makes up a majority of her body, turning parts of her almost pink, but it does seem to be— over. At least on the ship. This ship.

“But your way was efficient,” she continues, looking back in the direction of the Starling. There was still danger out there, but she was only one person. “The Starling was already on its last legs. We might be able to salvage some supplies off of it, but the yacht is our best option now. I stopped the engines, but they should be repairable. But we need to make sure there’s no more of him on board before we go back for them.”

And the possibility of more like him— the man who tried very hard to bisect her with a cable— is why she’s not stepping out into her body right now. Or leaving Silas by himself, even if it’s clear he can handle it.

"Yeah," Silas answers, his voice low and hoarse, his jaw tight. He hadn't missed this… but that doesn't change anything. The work needed to be done.

The Starling is listing now. Silas had known as well as any just how bad off the old boat had been — years of salt and storm and neglected maintenance had taken a heavy toll indeed — but watching her about to keel over is still a gutpunch.

She'd been home, for a little while.

There's no time to weep just yet, though. The enemy captain is down, and most of the rest of the enemy flotilla appears to have been buried under Natalie's avian army, but if they're to save anything at all — and if they're to get clear of the Starling's impending death throes — they need to act fast. He needs to act fast.

Silas looks back to Jenny and gives her a firm nod, because she's right and he knows it. "Let's do it," he says, chambering another round in his shotgun. "We'll sweep her, then I'll see about getting the engines going."

The corpses can be dealt with later.


The Starlingr

Hauling himself over the edge of the ship’s rail, Tay stares at the willody frame of Natalie Gray. Then down to his sister’s body, still wrapped in the plastic tarp she’d been laid out in. Natalie’s eyes follow Tay’s to the body and the old ship groans and creaks, pitching further away from the hole in its side. Natalie nearly loses her balance and Tay gently takes her by the forearm and elbow, guiding her to the railing.

“Can you climb?” Tay asks, both knowing and fearing her answer.

Natalie looks over the edge of the ship, to the rope dangling down its side and the small tugboat moored off its sinking edge. The cry of gulls and terns precedes her answer, a wordless shake of her head. She flexes her arthritic, old hands open and closed. Tay breathes in deeply, then looks down at Emily’s body.

“Wait here,” he tells Natalie, turning for the corpse, “I’ll—”

A sudden explosion erupts from the side of the Starling as flames from the speedboat wreck cause fuel to ignite in the hull. The whole ship lurches to one side, and Emily’s body careens down the now angled deck of the ship, striking a set of stairs before landing on the opposite railing. Tay screams, a strangled and mournful sound as he winds his hand into the rope to keep his balance.

He reaches out—for his sister’s body, too far. Fingers find purchase around Natalie’s wrist instead. He is the only thing keeping her from tumbling into the abyss, and Tay’s muscles strain as he pulls her to him. There is a moment of silence, apology in Natalie’s eyes, and Tay curses under his breath and shakes his head from side to side like a dog stung in the snout by a bee.

“Goddamnit,” Tay curses, turning his back to Natalie. “Climb on, and //don’t let go!” The old healer steps close, winding her thin arms around Tay’s neck, locking her hands at his chest as best as she can. Tay grabs the rope tightly, then looks down the tilting side of the Starling.

He looks back one last time to Emily’s body.

Then, he jumps.


The Midsummer’s Night

A sweep of the Midsummer’s Night found no more pirates aboard, and leaves Jenny and Silas in the engine room as they restart the bilge pumps to clear the engine of seawater intruded by the hydrokinetic. A process that she, with all her sea witch powers, makes even faster.

But it is there in the engine room that they feel the shuddering shockwave of an explosion, the second in as many minutes. Silas is able to move to the stairs first, get a look out beyond the below decks engine room in time to see a fireball erupting from the Starling and a thick column of fire-licked smoke rising up from the blast. At first his heart sinks, until he sees a tiny shape approaching ahead of the billowing cloud of smoke from the rupturing fuel tanks.

A tugboat.

The Shooting Star.

As Silas looks out at the erupting fireball that had very briefly been his home, Jenny steps out of her water form beside him, a perfect foot touching the deck. She’s ‘dressed’ by all appearances, in something that looks like shimmery fabric, blue and reflective. It’s rebuilt matter made up of the solid matter that she’d taken with her, visualized into clothes. She often looked as if she stepped right out of a model’s spread in a magazine, and that’s often due to the fact that she had been in theater and worked in modeling before the flood took everything.

It wasn’t real clothes. But it looked like it. Just like always, she looked clean and perfect. Every time she stepped out into a body it was new, like Venus born from a seashell. Her body was new, reborn. But this time, her hair was shorter— as if she didn’t have enough matter that was her from what she did to the engine. She had lost some of it.

And tears fall as she looks on. That ship, broken as it had been, had been her home. The sea would take it, now. As it had so many before.

That blast of fire rising to the sky marks the undeniable end of the Starling; it brings with it a fresh grief. For the boat, sure, but more for Natalie, Else, and even Tay.

He looks over to see how Jenny's taking it, and the sight of those silent tears trickling from her eyes cuts like a knife. "Hey," he says quietly, gently laying an arm around her shoulders. "Hey," he says to her again, still in that quiet, gentle tone of voice, because for all that he can weave words he doesn't know what to say after that; he never did find the words to cure grief.

It's only then, when his eyes stray to the fire one more time, that he notices the silhouette against the inferno. "Jenny. Look," he whispers to her, the rising hope he feels audible in his voice. The Shooting Star had made it.

Across the lapping waves, Taylor Epstein stares ahead even as the Starling continues to erupt with explosions in the distance. Natalie Gray, slouched against the aft side railing, watches her home of so many years sinking into the turbulent sea in a pillar of black smoke and flames. Birds alight from the wreckage, following the tugboat towards the distant spot of the Midsummer’s Night. Else, lingering on the outside of the cabin, watches Natalie with halfway-lidded eyes. There is anticipation in the air, her lips part. Show yourself, she mouths to herself.

Natalie swallows down the pit of dread forming in her stomach and turns blue eyes over to Tay. Slowly, she rises on shaky legs and moves over to the bearded sailor, laying a weathered hand on his shoulder. He is bleeding from a cut on his arm, soaking through the fabric of his sweater. She closes her eyes. She closes his wound. But it does nothing for the one in the middle of his chest.

Tay stays focused on the sea ahead, tears welled in his eyes, flames silhouetting his departure. This was not how he wanted to see his sister off. This was not how he imagined the future. His life, on the water, without her. Tay’s jaw sets tight, flexes, and he presses the throttle ahead.

Ahead is the only way to look.

There is no looking back.

Lest we all have a burial at sea.

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