I'm Sorry, We All Know the Ship's Doomed
John sweat like the engine was on fire, because it was.
There was no other way to look at it. He'd stumbled in here, mostly on impulse, wondering why there was smoke coming behind a door that promised his untimely demise if he went through it, on account of not being part of the crew. Fortunately, his curiosity had a blind spot to such threats as 'ground to chum and thrown into the open sky as feed for the birds'.
Or, unfortunately, now he thought.
John was no engineer, despite how much his parents insisted. He was only a third class passenger on whatever this ship was, bound westward for the port in Arlington for work. Or at least, work is what John told everyone. He didn't really want to get into the details of the vast amount of holiday time available to him now, and how foolish he was to spend it. It was a lot less embarrassing than to admit he'd just been fired.
And this trip had been dreadful for him. Just hours ago, he was napping. Then he woke to find a pipe in his room burst, and then woke properly to find his hand burnt on the steam let loose from it. How was he supposed to deal with this? A walk to cool off, he decided.
And now he was here, staring at an engine.
It was still on fire. He remembered this and screamed.
* * *
He had to tell someone, of course. Even he knew that fire in the heart of the ship was cause for alarm. The real question was who to tell.
John never did know much about airships, despite how frequently he'd find himself on them. There were vague notions of how one worked flying around his head, but nothing he could say was concrete. Or even correct. This was, he now realised, quite a shortcoming in the case of an emergency.
Such as the engine being on fire.
To an observer he'd look like he was wandering around aimlessly, but there was no observer to think that. No-one was out on the deck, which absolutely matched his streak of luck. Maybe they were all at lunch; he might have slept through it, now he thought.
But his saviour came as a sailor working diligently enough she didn't notice him. Whatever work it was she did with great attention, pulling at one rope, hoisting another, tying this one to that. Occasionally, she'd stare down one length, muttered something that barely passed as English, and grabbed a knife to fray it.
Ah, and the stripes on her epaulettes. That meant she was important. How important, he couldn't say. The first mate, perhaps? That sounded correct.
"Excuse me," he began, surprising himself with how confident he sounded. "I have something to tell you."
The first mate didn't hear that, or didn't want to. She continued on like he didn't even exist.
"If you're not busy," he said, as confident he usually was, "er, it's very important."
This got her attention. Knife still in hand, she jumped down from a platform to face him, arms crossed. "Yes?"
"Er," he said, like he was somehow responsible. "Er, the— Er."
"Out with it, man."
"The engine's on fire."
The first mate considered this. "Is it now?"
"Er, yes. Er."
She clicked her tongue. "That would be a problem."
"It would be."
"It would."
They both nodded.
Then John shook his head. "No, no. This is wrong. It is a problem, right now."
"How would you know?"
"You can trust me."
"Can I?"
Well, he supposed that was a valid point.
It wasn't the reaction he was expecting, but it was an interesting one. She didn't immediately jump to believe him, which did make some kind of sense. If someone came to him and said everyone was in grave danger, he'd probably think they were just a raving loon, but...
No more. He was wasting valuable time. John said: "If you go down to the engine room, and see, er, the engine, it's on fire."
"Well of course I could," she spun her knife in a way John felt was deliberate, "but it would be a problem if you've done that."
"Because," she leant closer, ever so slowly, "passengers aren't allowed in the engine room."
Ah. Suddenly his curiosity was very concerned about chum. "Er."
Normally, he would have stumbled through a few more 'er's before his tongue found a suitable excuse to make. That's to say, excuses rarely came to him, if at all. These were situations he found himself in far too frequently. Faced with authority, demanding questions of hows and whys. He didn't try to get into trouble, he simply found himself in it more than out.
There was really no way he could dodge this. "I've been in there. I'll admit it, I have."
Her face shifted south. She moved even closer.
"Yes, yes. I know. I know," he rushed. "I shouldn't have, but I had to. There was this steam leak in my room, you see. I'd just woken up; I didn't know what else to do. I wasn't thinking, er, straight, and I found—"
"What happened to your hand?"
"—someone I could... Pardon?"
"Your hand," she said, snatching it by the wrist. "Good God, man. How did you do this?"
"Er," he said. "Er—"
Then John was following her, dragged by his arm. He yelped in surprise.
He only noticed how quick they were moving when he looked down, his legs taking grand strides to keep up. His hamstring pulling made him break into a half-run.
He tried for her attention. "Could you please tell me—"
"No more. I'm dealing with you."
He knew what that meant. John's mind was alight with enough worries already, but corporal punishment made hairs stand on end.
Although, if he was going to be chum, the least he could do was stop everyone else meeting the same fate. "We're going to the engine, at least?"
"Why would we be going to the engine?"
"For the issue of, er, the fire. Where else would we be going?"
"The medic."
"Medic?" he squeaked. "I don't need a medic. I'm fine. I need to show you the engine."
"You've burnt yourself, you lunatic! Of course you need a medic."
"Well, the burn wasn't my fault, if I remember, but it doesn't matter as much as the fire—"
"I don't care how or why you burnt yourself. I'm not having fools running around the deck making everyone else think we run a circus of a ship."
"No, please, it's not about the burn, there's much bigger problems—"
She yanked on his arm. "No more. Anything else out of you and you'll regret it."
* * *
Despite his insistence, they were not in the engine room. Because of his insistence, the first mate had punched him in the mouth.
She'd said it was no worry to him, since he was minutes from medical attention. It didn't give him much assurance, but never got a moment to contest it. The last he'd seen of her was the back of her head as the door to the medic's office shut.
He'd also learnt she wasn't the first mate, and had completely slipped her actual title.
Every wall in the office was trying very hard for titanium white, but could only achieve a sickly cream. Surfaces that weren't covered with equipment a cointoss between medical devices and instruments of torture had a layer of dust thick enough to use as a towel. In the corner, a plant waited for a coroner to take notice.
John was sitting on a rickety chair, as instructed. The medic peered at him over half-lidded glasses, in such a way it threw him back to years of endless detention. "Why did you burn yourself?" he asked, in a similar manner Mr. Wilkinson asked why his hat was on the roof.
John swallowed. "Er. The engine's on fire."
"I know the engine's on fire," he said flatly. "How did you get this burn?"
"Some hot steam got to it. Well, you know what I mean. Steam can't be cold." Then John did a double-take. "What do you mean you know?
"Steam," the medic said, scribbling unreadable notes. "You've scalded yourself."
"Hardly myself. I was sound asleep and suddenly there's steam interrupting me, and then my hand got in the way. I did nothing."
"Barely awake in your cabin, I presume?"
"Yes. One of the pipes near the bed burst. Er." John shuffled awkwardly in his seat. The wood was digging into his tailbone. "But, you said the engine's on fire."
"I did," the medic said coldly. "Steam leak. Interesting."
"...You did, so?"
"Yes. The engine's on fire. Now, give me a moment."
The medic opened a journal, and set about copying notes made on his clipboard into it. The new ones were somehow even more incomprehensible, and John wondered if they were instead in a script he didn't recognise. That word definitely wasn't in the dictionary, besides.
The scratch of the pen felt like it was etching the inside of his skull.
He pushed on. "You said you already knew? For how long?"
The medic stopped writing for a brief second, shot John one look, and continued.
"Have you told anyone else about it? The engine?"
He sighed. "Sir, I don't know what that has to do with anything."
"Well, the thing is, I wouldn't have burnt myself if the engine wasn't on fire."
"You said your scald was from a steam leak, not from noseying in the engine room." His pen slowed, stopping on a deliberately dotted 'i'. "Unless you're lying to me."
"No no, no," John hurried. "The burn was from steam. I just think, er, the fire caused that leak. Pressure, maybe? That's all."
"You talk about the engine a lot, don't you?" The medic capped his pen, and sent it rolling across the desk. "And it's a scald, not a burn."
"Because it's the engine?!" John wailed, ignoring that. "I'm not sure how many times I can say it's on fire before you realise it's an issue."
"I understand how a ship works, sir."
"Plainly you don't!"
A severe look swept the medic's face. His lips tightened, and he wordlessly grabbed John's affected hand at the wrist.
John floundered, before composing himself. "I'm sorry, but please. I tried talking to the first mate— Well, no. Er..." He shook his head. "Look, I think we agree it's quite the emergency. She didn't seem to believe me when I told her, but you're part of the crew. If you could explain—"
John screamed.
Pain seared through his forearm, every nerve alight. The medic had poured something on the burn, sinking into his palm. John's fingers writhed in response, and he almost collapsed off the chair.
"If you'd be kind enough," the medic said, handing him a cloth, "to scream into this. There are patients trying to rest."
He inhaled through his teeth and straightened himself up as best he could. His fingers had stopped, mostly. Pain still throbbed up his arm.
"I'm fine now. I'm fine." He exhaled deeply to convince himself of that. "You could have warned me, though."
"If you'd paid attention instead of rambling on about engines, you would have noticed."
There was a bottle in the medic's hand, John realised. He placed it on the table and started pulling lengths from a roll of bandages.
"But," John said between pulls, "the engine. The fire."
The medic didn't even lift his eyes this time.
"Are you listening to me?"
"I have to, unfortunately." He took a pair of scissors off the shelf, snipped the bandage, and pulled the length taught around John's hand. "Please stay still."
John tried not to jump each time the wrap tightened. "But—!"
"Yes, sir, the engine's on fire. I've known this for some time; you are not surprising me, nor do I think you're funny. Consider it a quirk of the ship and continue your day."
"A quirk of—What?"
"You learn to live with it." The medic finished the bandages, put the scissors back into its dust mould, and returned to his notes. "Run along. I'm very busy today."
John sat with his mouth agape. He couldn't believe anything he'd just heard. The medic knew. He knewthe engine was on fire and was sitting here doing nothing. And he insisted that everyone should just live with it? It was going to kill everyone! He couldn't possibly leave!
"Get out of my office, sir."
Then he did.
* * *
"All fixed for ye," he said. "Apologies. She's a bit temperamental, this ship."
John had returned to his cabin to, much unexpected relief, an engineer already working on the leaking pipe. His burn was tingling under the bandages, which he convinced himself was a good thing. His cheek was also tingling, and only now did he realise that the medic never looked at it.
"Thank you," John mumbled.
"Had a few o' these, actually," the engineer said, scratching his beard. "Leaks. All on the same line. Lord knows what's doin' it."
John's one priority returned to him. "So you don't know?"
"Ey? Know what?"
"The engine."
"Engine?" The engineer said it with an edge of concern. John clung to it. "She's my job. What's wrong?"
"Have you checked her, then?"
"Due for a check this evenin', aye."
"She's on fire right now."
The engineer straightened up. "Is she?"
"Yes," John rasped. "We need to do something. We need to check it."
"What, me 'n' you?"
"Sure! Me and you! No-one else seems to care!"
"Sorry, what's that mean?"
"The engine's on fire, I keep telling people the engine's on fire, and everyone seems perfectly fine with the fact the engine's on fire!"
The engineer only stared.
"The engine's on fire," John squeaked.
"Well, I can go check if yer concerned, but I can't be bringin' ye with me. No passengers allowed in—"
"I know. I know. I know. I have to go with you."
"Can't bring a passenger—"
"I don't care. I'm going with you."
The engineer's stare started to shift into a scowl.
"Okay, okay," John reasoned, "let's say, you go to the engine of your own volition. Then, I just so happen to get lost and find my way down there. How does that sound?"
"Ye sayin' yer doin' that?"
"Can I convince ye not?"
"You can't."
The engineer rocked on his heels. "Made me worried about this, y'know?"
"Then go check on the engine!"
"But yer gonna make the way down there too! Probably hurt yerself!"
"Isn't the engine more important than me?"
They had a silent conversation. The engineer had to check the engine. John had to check him checking it. Neither was shifting on this. He picked up his tool box, put the wrench he was holding inside it, and left the room. As he closed the door, he gave one final look to John, eyebrows raised.
John waited for a moment. How long it was, he couldn't tell. There were no clocks in his cabin and appointments were something that always seemed to run away from him. He needed a replacement watch, but never found the time for one.
However long he decided was enough, John set out to the engine room.
He didn't want to remember the corridor to get there. The light burned brighter than the sun. The yellow wallpaper had a dizzying pattern that would look old-fashioned in any time period. A half-rotten smell penetrated the air.
The last part was stairs, metal that resounded with every step and fell off into a void. Terribly, the plunge into near-darkness was welcome. At least it stopped the headache.
Why on Earth did he come down here before? Yes, he was impulsive, but what possessed him to this?
"You got down here quick," the engineer said, lighting a gaslamp and flooding the room.
"Did I?" John said wearily, blinking to adjust to the new light. The weight of the day was starting to hit him.
"Right," the engineer said, placing his toolbox down, "engine's the problem, aye? I'll just—"
John moved like a motor was powering him. There was no time for more words. He snatched the handle to the engine room, surprising him with how hot it was. John opened the door, making a careful—but still, very swift—motion to step to the side.
A thundercloud of smoke, even bigger than John was expecting, assaulted the engineer. He stumbled back in a fit of coughs.
"That's—" He sneezed. "Bit weird. Wee bit weird."
"Weird," John said, looking at the soot on the engineer's cheeks. "Weird?"
"Oh, aye."
He looked into the engine room, and the distinct orange light overpowering the lamp thrice over. "Being on fire qualifies as more than 'weird', surely."
"Fire's a bit of an exaggeration."
That sentence didn't settle in John's head. Not a first. "So you believe there's a problem? Someone finally does?"
"There's somethin' off, suppose."
Then, it did. "Exaggeration?!"
"Sayin' 'fire' would cause a bit o' panic. No fire, just a wee bit o' heat."
John gestured frantically at the room, speechless.
"Yeah, mate?"
"This is far more than just heat! Look at it!"
The mechanic rubbed his nose, ash bouncing off it. "Look, I get it. Bit of fire's some trouble, but worse things have happened, aye?"
John blinked.
"Not sayin' it's not an issue, I'm not. But we can tackle it later." With that, he started to leave.
Uncharacteristically, John snatched him by the shoulder and spun him around. "Aren't you an engineer?!"
"Aye," he growled, yanking John's hand off. "Which should tell ye this is fine."
"But it's so obviously not? Why aren't any of you listening to me?!"
"'Cause yer not an engineer, for starters."
"I don't need to be an engineer to tell you an engine fire is bad, surely?"
The engineer snatched his belongings and stormed off, footsteps echoing against the walls of pipes.
"Surely?!" John shouted after him.
He climbed the stairs, leaving John alone in the belly of the ship, each footstep pounding through his head.
Waves of heat licked at his back. He jumped.
Staring down everyone's slowly ticking demise, the only thing that came to him was closing the door. So he did, grimacing a little when he held the handle. Darkness surrounded him again.
None of this had gone how he was expecting.
He didn't care what anyone else said. This was bad. This was so obviously bad and no-one was listening to him!
But what else could he do, if no-one was listening? What else could he do?! Who could—
John bolted up the stairs.
* * *
"I'm speaking to the captain."
"It's not a matter of 'sir', I'm speaking to him!"
John had never been like this in his life. He was fueled entirely by rage, and felt more an observer to it than a participant. Somehow, he'd found the captain's quarters, and was now faced with two sailors trying to stop him.
"What business could you possibly have with him?" one demanded.
"The engine's on fire, and because all of you are insane, I'm telling him myself to sort this."
The two sailors shared a quizzical look. "The engine's on fire?"
"Heard about that," the other said vaguely. "Didn't really believe it, mind."
"I can tell you it's true," John insisted. "I'll bring you down to the engine to prove it."
"Is it really?"
"Yes! No-one believes me, and I'm not leaving until you let me speak to the captain!"
One sailor tapped her foot. "He's been here a while. Could just let him in."
The other scoffed. "Captain'll be mad if you do."
"Man's mad at everything. Come on."
"Yeah? Because everyone keeps testing him."
"Testing him? What with?"
"Letting random people into his office, for starters."
"It's not like we're always doing that, are we?"
"Well maybe I should talk about the bolts, instead."
The sailor gasped. "The bolts were one time!"
"Oh, maybe. And that doesn't mean I'm letting you off with it."
"All I'll say, it's resolved, and we don't need to bring it up every other conversation."
"Why? Why not? Why shouldn't I?"
Their volume had escalated, and now were shouting over each other. They'd slipped into their own reality and didn't even realise John was still there.
He thought, they weren't actually standing in front of the door.
John's rage grabbed the reins, and he stormed into the captain's quarters, shoulder first. He slammed the door behind him and pulled the fiercest face his muscles could.
The door banged hard enough every keepsake hung on the wall shook. It also caused his face to shatter.
The captain, although John had not seen many, looked like the exact image one would think of hearing the word 'captain'. Down to the silvery hair, and not even mentioning the uniform with enough decorations to double its weight. A scar or two on his face promised many tales about them.
He sat on an ornamented chair, legs on the desk, and looked up from a book he was reading. "Who are you?"
John's rage retreated with the last of his face, and left him alone. "Er."
"Er? Your name's er?"
"John," he blurted out. "John, my name's John."
They looked at each other in silence. John's entire quest had escaped him.
The captain closed his book. "Sir, would you happen to be lost?"
"I'm the captain, and I can plainly see you're not part of the crew. You would only come here on invitation."
"I'll take that as a yes. You may leave my quarters and make your way back—"
"The engine's on fire!" John shouted.
The captain adjusted his glasses. "Please repeat that?"
"The engine's on fire," he said as levelled as he could. "The engine's on fire, and no one believes the engine's on fire."
"Indeed." The captain's eyes flicked back down to the book, reopening it.
John's stammered. "The... the engine's on fire."
"I did hear you." He adjusted his glasses again. "You may leave."
John was dreaming. He had to be. That was the only explanation for everything that had happened today.
"The engine," he said slowly, "is on fire."
The captain exhaled sharply, reclosed the book, and placed it firmly on the desk. "I'll be truthful, I'm a little offended you thought I didn't notice."
"Oh," John sighed with relief, "you're already doing something. Oh, good. Thank you."
"Why would I?"
John almost choked on his spit. "What?"
"Do you think I have the time for this?" he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "We have passengers to ship and cargo to transport. There are much more important things to attend to."
Somehow, John reached new levels of bewilderment. "You have to see the problem with that."
"I don't think there's going to be things to transport if the fire keeps going."
"Sir," he said, with a smile even more condescending than John's teachers used to pull, "how much would you know about airships?"
"Not much, I admit, but—"
"Exactly, sir." The captain swapped the book with a pile of reports, some dogeared, others crinkled. He shuffled through them idly. "Come back when you have something worth my time, or understand what you're talking about."
"I do."
The captain stopped, rolling his eyes up to meet John's. He leant forward over the desk, throwing the reports to the side to clasp his hands together. "Could you repeat that, sir?"
John stammered. "I didn't say anything."
"I did."
John spun around.
In the doorway stood a woman. An asymmetrical dress, heels sharp enough to be used as blades, and a face almost as red as her hair. The intensity of it could have rivalled the sun.
The captain shot up. "How did you get up here? Who are you?"
"There's a problem," she ignored, striding up to his desk.
He stood, pulling open desk drawers and looking for something John couldn't guess. "That's quite enough. Who are you?"
"Magdalene." She didn't stop her advance, and slammed her hand on his desk. "I'm here to tell you there's a problem."
"If it's for the same problem as your friend here, you can both make your leave."
"What friend?"
The captain pointed at John. Magdalene sized him up, making him feel oddly like prey, then turned back to the captain. "I'm here to tell you about the engine. I don't care what he's here for."
"That's also what he's here for. I'm aware of the engine and its problems."
"Are you aware it's on fire?"
"Yes," the captain said through his teeth. "And I'll ask the same question I asked him: how much do you know about airships?"
Magdalene crossed her arms. "More than enough. I've worked on the Pygmalion, Eurydice, and the Agamemnon. I would have thought being a passenger would get me a day off, but I suppose not!"
John had no idea if those names were worth anything, but the captain was clearly impressed.
"And," she pressed on, "I serviced the engines on all of them. Had my fair run-ins, you could say. I know more than enough to tell you this is a problem."
The captain broke from the spell she cast on him, and chuckled lightly. "Miss, you understand this is my ship, yes?"
"I understand we're all passengers, yes."
"So you understand the importance of getting you to your destination?"
"Because Arlington pays well?"
"Well," he said, clearly off guard, "surely you want to make the trip without focusing on silly distractions."
"There won't be a trip if this isn't fixed!" she yelled. "Surely, you understand us not making it means no money in your pocket. You won't have a pocket six feet under."
The captain resumed his drawer search. "I don't have time for this. Leave. Both of you."
Magdalene dug her heels into the floor, denting the wood slightly. "I'm not leaving until you do something about the engine."
John remembered he existed. "Yes. Right. Me neither."
The captain found what he was rooting in his drawers for. A pistol.
John screamed, and wished he didn't remember he existed.
Something grabbed his arm and pulled it. It took him a moment to realize it was Magdalene.
They burst out of the office, past the two sailors still bickering, and didn't stop running down the hall.
A gunshot rang out behind them. John ducked with a hand over his head, praying to anything that would listen. He glanced back to see the sailors in a sudden frenzy.
Suddenly, he jolted forward, Magdalene slamming the door to the deck open with all her weight. The light of the sun blinded him, and he could only hope she wouldn't guide him into a wall.
They continued across the deck, running, then jogging. Her grip loosened, and she let go.
"I think," John panted, "we can stop."
"Yeah," Magdalene clutched her chest, leaning against a wall. "We can."
He blinked several times. Everytime he did, the world was left with a red afterimage.
Magdalene broke into a laugh, and stuck her hand out. "It's very nice to meet you."
"You as well," he shook hands. Then he yelped and let go.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Burn," he squeaked, flexing his fingers. "I burnt my hand. I keep forgetting."
"Goodness, that's terrible."
"Apologies," he breathed. Even with his embarrassment, John's pride swelled, for once in his life remembering a name. "Magdalene, was it?"
"Do call me Mags. The full thing is far too formal."
"Mags," he confirmed. "I'm John."
"Nice to know your name, John."
They shared a moment of silence. It was actually quite nice.
"So," he said, "er..."
"The engine?"
"The engine," he sighed. "I've been panicking about it all day, and the fact no one else is. You have no idea how happy I am you agree. You know what you're talking about.."
"I do?" she said. "I mean, thank you, but how am I different from you? We're both passengers."
"I was referring to the airship experience you have."
"Ah, well," she mumbled, turning away.
"I've got none. I've never worked on one in my life."
"But..." The confrontation replayed in his head. "The qualifications. All those ships you listed."
"Oh, those are just ships I've travelled on. I always remember names."
"And the story?"
"Improvisation," she shrugged.
He blinked. "You just lied through your teeth to a sky captain?"
"How else was he going to listen, then?"
"He didn't!"
"Well he believed me, didn't he?" She sighed, and started to fix her bun. "Just, you know, shame for the rest of it."
"The engine's on fire."
"The engine's on fire."
They both nodded.
"Er," John said, "I don't really know where we can go from here."
"I commend you for trying to make a start."
"I can't believe no-one else has."
"Absolutely!" she exclaimed, slamming a hand onto his shoulder hard enough that the rest of him jumped. "Good man! You're the only one who understands! Let alone the captain, the first mate didn't believe me either."
"Oh, great," he said, trying to loosen her grip with a complicated twist of the joint.
"Andrew. Lovely man, he was." John barely opened his mouth before she cut in again. "No, actually. Terrible man. Wouldn't listen to a word I told him. You'd think a fire would be cause for alarm."
"Ah," he said, accepting his shoulder's new situation. "Sounds familiar."
Magdalene raised her eyebrows.
They stared at each other for a moment before John realised she was inviting him to share. "I told the ship's medic while he was doing this," he wiggled his fingers. "As well as the first... er, something. Someone else. She looked important."
"Surely the medic..." she trailed off, squinting. "What did he say?"
"That it's 'a quirk of the ship'. He already knew."
"He knew?!" she shrieked. "And didn't do anything?"
"Nothing. As far as I know."
Magdalene's jaw almost reached the floor.
"And the captain didn't..." She shook her head. "There has to be one member of the crew who gets it. There has to be!"
"Who else do we tell, then?"
"Him," she said, striding away. The 'him' was a random sailor with a mop, who looked like he was in a world of his own.
Magdalene tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me."
His world shattered, eyes yanked back to the world of the living. He yawned, and looked at Magdalene.
"Do you know the engine's on fire?"
"We've had a lot of people talking about the engine today," he said wistfully. "Something happened?"
"It's on fire," she pronounced deliberately. "And your captain's not doing anything about it."
"On fire?" The crewmate looked around, almost like he was acting in a pantomime. "I haven't noticed anything."
"You can run down to the engine and see for yourself."
"Oh, no need for that. Passengers aren't supposed to be down there."
"Sure, but the engine is on fire, you understand?"
"On fire?" He looked around again, somehow even more theatric. "Don't think so."
"It is, we've—"
The crewmate walked off, whistling.
John approached Magdalene once it was obvious bafflement had frozen her.
"I don't believe it," she breathed. "I simply don't believe it."
"That's all I've been getting, too."
"Is there something in the air today?" she said, licking a finger to check the wind. "Miasma, perhaps?"
"I can only hope this is curable."
"I don't think we have the time, even if it was," she said. "They aren't going to help. What else can we do?"
"But why?!" John wailed. "I thought for a moment that I was going insane, but no! You're here. You agree that the damn engine's on fire!"
"Of course I do! I've been down there!"
"So has an engineer! I goaded him into checking it, he took one look at the piles of smoke and decided the whole thing was just fine! Why?&Why?! What's—"
Magdalene clasped his shoulders, digging her nails into his back. "John."
"Mags. This isn't important right now."
"The fact the crew won't help? How?"
"Because we're running out of time! Every minute we bicker over 'why's and 'what if's that engine's inching closer to failure."
He cut himself off, really thinking about her words. "Okay. Yes. But what else can we do, if the people running this ship won't do anything?"
"The people running the ship won't do anything, but what about everyone else?"
* * *
Everyone else—that being, the passengers—were at lunch. He and Magdalene stood before the oaken double doors to the canteen.
"Mags," he whispered, "I think you should take charge of this."
"Why me?"
"You seem to know what you're doing," he eyed the door nervously, "with this kind of thing."
Her brows furrowed. "What?"
"Confrontation. I've never been good at it."
"Really? I would have thought you've got an edge."
"I mean, er," he scratched his head, "I don't feel like I'm good at it. Then I think about that too much, and then I'm really not good at it. I always think about what I'm doing too much, and that never works when I need to be quick on my feet, er..."
"Should we enter?"
"Hm?" Then he remembered. "Oh. Yes."
Magdalene kicked the door open.
The groans of wood hitting the walls alone caused shocked yelps to spread through the hall. A grand one, mahogany furnishings, plush red seats, a silver chandelier in the room's centre. John hadn't eaten in here before.
"Listen," she commanded, as John followed her sheepishly. "I'm here to tell you all there's an emergency."
She strode onwards between tables, each one turning attention to her as she passed. Their expressions ranged from frustration to concern. At the announcement's content or Magdalene's actions, John didn't know.
"And here's the thing!" she stopped in the hall's centre, with John almost running into her, "the crew are trying to hide it from you!"
This got the room's attention, even those who pretended the sound of the door didn't burst their eardrums. Forks dropped to plates and scandalous gasps escaped lips.
"Now," she said, bringing her hands together. "This is going to be quite shocking. But, I need to stress, we can do something about this. None of us need to panic."
The room was captured by her words. A rare bit of hope bloomed in John.
Magdalene breathed deeply, waiting for the perfect moment to say: "The engine's on fire."
John wasn't sure what reaction he was expecting. It wasn't often that he, or anyone else, walked into a room and calmly announced that oblivion was on their doorstep. He tried to think what he would do if he was sitting down like everyone else, and couldn't. Would he be scared? Stunned? Maybe even angry?
What he didn't expect, was a: "That's it?" from a nearby table.
Magdalene spun around to face him. "Sir, excuse me?"
"Well, it's bad, but is that it?"
"Is that it?"
"What's so bad about a little fire? We'll manage."
Magdalene tried to find an answer, instead talking to the woman next to him. "Surely you understand the problem here?"
"Hm?" she said, cocking her head. "There's a problem?"
"Yes? The engine's on fire!"
"Oh, is it?" she said dreamily. "Is that bad?"
"Do you understand what an engine is, ma'am?"
"It makes the ship fly, right? All flying away through the sky..."
"Ergo, it's a problem if it's on fire, correct?"
"Maybe? Maybe..."
"Is the engine really on fire?" the table next to them asked. "That just seems... abstract."
John decided to take this one "What does that mean?"
"Oh, I don't know. Just doesn't feel like the kind of thing that would happen."
"Well, it is. Right now."
She hummed and hawed. "No, that doesn't sound right. That doesn't happen to me."
"Why's this about you? Everyone on the ship's at risk, here."
"Are they? What about me?"
A voice from across the room said: "What's so bad if it's on fire?" interjecting whatever conversation Magdalene was in.
She massaged her temples. "Again, do any of you understand how an engine works?"
"I think I do, in fact," he said with the air of someone who read a book, once. "You shove fire into an engine, somewhere, to make heat for the steam. A fire would help, wouldn't it?"
"That's not how that works at all!"
"I say the fire's good," he continued. "I know how this works. If there's more heat, the engine goes quicker. It'll get us there faster."
A group of diners agreed with him. Their numbers grew, each of them sharing increasingly misguided theories between them.
She shot a desperate look at John. He shrugged, just as desperate.
"Er," he said, "do any of you understand we're going to crash?"
Another man tugged at Magdalene's dress, smiling. "I understand."
"You do?!" she sighed in relief. "Oh, thank God. Listen, what can we do about it?"
"Well there's no point, is there?"
"Right, maybe we can..." She paused. "I'm sorry?"
"The ship's doomed. I know that; we all know that."
The rest of the table nodded, sharing confirmations between them.
Magdalene's eyes darted wildly between them all. "Doesn't that make you scared? Even a bit?"
"Oh, no. We're fine with it. It's fine."
"But it's not fine!" John jumped in. "We can do something about this. We can. We just need to do it right now."
"The ship's doomed," he shrugged. "I'm fine with it."
"If you helped us, we could—"
"Not like one person can make a difference, can they?" He returned to his champagne. "Sorry."
The volume in the hall crept up again. Cutlery started to return to hands and pleasant chatter resumed. Only a few of the conversations even took a glance at the topic of engines, and most left it as little more than a joke.
John and Magdalene, silent, walked out of the hall like this never happened, and the hall responded in turn.
They made it outside, took one door each, and closed the entrance.
"Well," Magdalene said, "that was—"
John threw himself against the wall, wailing into his hands. "Terrible!"
"Yes, alright, this could have gone better."
"I don't think it could have gone worse. But that's our luck, isn't it? The crew won't listen. The captain won't listen. Everyone else on board won't listen. Oh God. There's nothing we can do. There's nothing we can do!"
"John, you're hyperventilating."
"Am I? Really? Am I? You're going to blame me for that?!"
"I'm not blaming you for anything! Just calm down."
"You want me to calm down? Right now?! How the hell am I supposed to calm down?!"
Magdalene ripped him off the wall by the shoulders. "John!"
"You can either panic and wallow here, or you pull yourself together and we think of something."
Oh, good God. He wanted to. What he would give to just collapse to the ground and cry about it. To damn the whole thing to hell, the ship, everyone in that pathetic hall, and consign himself to their shared fate.
But, one thing persevered. His stubborn will to prove everyone else wrong.
"Okay," he breathed. "Okay, okay."
Even then, the panic he was trying to kill advanced on him. "I can't think of anything else. I can't."
"Let's stop relying on other people. What if we fixed it ourselves?"
John let Magdalene read his face. No words were needed for how insane that was.
She shrugged. "At this point, it's worth a try."
"Have you even worked on an engine?"
"No. Have you?"
They stared at each other.
Magdalene said: "Any other ideas?"
"No. You?"
They stared again.
* * *
"There's a lot of smoke," John warned, voice echoing against the metal of the ship's machinery. "On the count of three."
"I'll be fine," Magdalene said, muffled under a cloth she held to her nose. "I'll be fine because I say I will."
"Not how that works."
"Oh, what? Do you have a better prayer?"
He supposed he didn't.
John stared down the door handle, ready to grab it. "Three—"
Immediately, he screamed.
"It burns!" he squealed, waving his hand like it was on fire. "The handle!"
"Too hot?"
"What does it look like?!"
Magdalene ripped the cloth off her face and balled it in her hand. She flung the door open to ashes and flame.
It assaulted the back of John's throat. He coughed. Spluttered.
Magdalene brought the cloth to her mouth just in time, but only fared slightly better. "John?"
"Mags—" Another fit of coughs made him double over. Every staggered inhale only invited more smoke.
"Forget it!" Magdalene choked. "We need to get out."
"It keeps—" He heaved. "I can't—"
Oh, that familiar sensation again. A grip on his hand, being pulled somewhere. He didn't like it, not really. But it happened that much he was used to it.
John thought he was screaming. Was he screaming? His vocal chords felt like they were. He couldn't hear anymore.
But he was moving... somewhere. Something told him that was a good thing. His chest kept heaving, but he couldn't cough, which felt all kinds of awful. Like his lungs were trying to escape the barred cage of his ribs. It really...
They weren't going a different way up. It didn't matter. Ash danced around them to a requiem, and an unknown set of stairs were before them. It didn't matter.
Near the top, she let go, but John had gathered enough of his senses back to bound up after her, two steps at a time. The blinding gaze of the sun, and Magdalene bursting the door open, was more than welcome. They both stumbled out onto the deck.
John fell to the ground, his knees giving in. Magdalene collapsed too, and he wasn't sure if to mimic him or if she actually couldn't stand anymore. Either way, he felt oddly comforted by her joining.
For a moment, they just lay there. He'd never been more relieved by the sound of his own breathing.
"Okay," Magdalene said, slightly hoarse, "that didn't work."
"Evidently," John said, his voice even worse. "That's it. The ship's doomed."
"I could have done something about it, back then. When I first saw it. I could have saved everyone. Oh God. Oh, God."
"What could you have done?! Tell me."
"Anything? Instead of just screaming?! I don't know!"
Magdalene stared. John pushed on, regardless. "I said I don't know. I don't."
She continued staring, silent. "Mags?"
He realised she wasn't staring at him. He whipped his head around.
A sailor was looking at them both, eyeing them suspiciously. "Wouldn't've been in the engine room, would yah?"
John and Magdalene looked at each other. There were many things they wanted to discuss, including if they should lie their way through this, what they should say to someone else who didn't see the immediate problem, and beyond all of that, how blatantly obvious their soot-stained clothes made them of their last location. They settled on blinking that might pass as morse code, and stayed quiet.
"Suppose you haven't," the sailor shrugged. "Heard there's been passengers tryna poke around there. Lemmie know if you see any, yeah?"
The sailor left, humming something John didn't recognise, but could tell wasn't hitting the right notes.
John brought himself to a sit. "Er."
"It was a long shot," Magdalene followed. "I'll admit that."
"Earlier, if I'd just—"
"John," she cut in. "No more 'what if's. Remember what I said."
"But then there's nothing we can do." His heart beat faster. Louder. "There's nothing we can do!"
"No," she commanded, grabbing his arm. "There's always something."
"Mags, I appreciate what you're doing, but think. We've gone to the captain. Members of the crew. The passengers. We tried fixing it on our own. What else is left?!"
"Nothing," she said, squeezing her grip, "except chaos."
* * *
It felt like his entire life was leading to this point.
John had tried to tell himself that he wasn't put into this world with the God-given quest of being as annoying to everyone else as possible. He told himself that when he'd taught himself to sneeze on command for Mrs. Groves' assembly speeches. He told himself that on the only holiday his family ever went on where he'd learnt how to swear in thirteen different languages. He told himself that when he'd figured out the combination to his boss' safe to leave him a note about employee happiness.
But now, faced with this, it was very hard to continue doing so.
"If we cause chaos," Magdalene had explained, "they will have to pay attention to us."
"And if they just get annoyed?"
"The key is, we cause enough chaos to force the ship to halt. But not enough we burn the whole thing down."
And for once in his life, he was perfectly prepared for something.
This was because Magdalene had given him a knife and a hammer. He didn't know where she got them from. It felt something not to ask questions about.
Still, no-one on the deck. Not even that first... whatever she was. Did lunch really last that long? At least one person would have been out here by now, surely.
"Should count our blessings, besides," Magdalene shrugged. "We'll leave them a nice surprise to come back to."
"Where do we begin?"
"Hey, you're the one who said he had experience here."
Well, he did say that. "We'll start with the ropes."
John didn't know what the ropes were for. But certainly, if members of the crew tended to them so often, they had to be important.
It really didn't matter which one, did it? He pulled one at random, and prepared the knife to—
"No, no," Magdalene grabbed his hand, "the one right above it."
She pointed along where it led, ending on complicated knots around the masts above them. The one she traced was twisted through the centre of them all.
John nodded, and cut.
The rope slinked away like a fleeing snake. Up and away like it was caught by a hawk, all the others tied to it coming loose. He definitely couldn't say, but knots seemed like they'd survive more than that. One smaller sail fell slack, and fluttered towards the deck.
"That's a good start," she smiled.
"You keep at this," he said, handing her the knife. "You seem to know which ones are best."
"Not really. I'm just following the lines."
"You do it well." He scanned the deck, hearing another sail flop through the air. "I'll get started elsewhere."
"Need any help?"
He flipped the hammer in his hands. "Nope."
Machines were dotted all over the deck. Like the ropes, he had no idea what function they could be serving. Who cared? One of these had to get someone's attention.
Like this one. This looked like it did something useful. On one side a turbine spun. So, he swung at it.
Metal creaked like a dissonant bell. The spinning crept to a stop. He swung a few more times, just to be sure.
John pressed his ear to the metal, a chittering from inside it halting. Whatever this was, he'd disabled it. He strode away, a devilish smile creeping across his face.
Now, this one looked even more important. It was similar to the previous, but far larger, turbine passable as a windmill. What could go wrong here?
John swung, and immediately regretted it.
In a fight between the blades and his hammer, the blades won. The hammer was whipped out of his hand, handle exploding into splinters. But, they only won a battle. The rest of the hammer jammed between the blades, and the turbine grinded trying to continue its revolutions.
A bang came from the machine. His ears rang out for mercy. When he opened his eyes, steam bellowed from a hammer-head shaped crack, and smoke rose from somewhere else.
"Oh dear," he whispered.
"John," Magdalene called out, "I think—"
She didn't need to finish, as the sound of rapidly approaching boots did for her.
They stopped inches from his own, and then he realised a sailor was attached to them. "What the hell are you doing?!"
John looked at the steam, and back at the sailor. "Is this a trick question?"
"Why on Earth would that be a trick question? What the hell is this?"
"Do something about the engine," Magdalene strode up, "then we'll talk."
The man spun around. He went from anger, to surprise, to even more anger. "You," he growled.
"Andrew," she said tersely.
"All of this," the first mate spat, "was because of a silly little engine?!"
"That's on fire, and no-one's doing anything about."
"Look at what you've done!" he screeched. "How was any of this acceptable?!"
John tried to cut in, but the first mate turned to the man next to him. "Get the captain. He'll want to see this," and the man scarpered away.
"None of this would have happened if you'd just listened to us," Magdalene said.
"You just destroyed a machine!"
"Because you're not listening!" she shouted. "All we asked for was to have something done about the engine."
"Oh, and this was an acceptable response, was it?"
"Because you wouldn't listen, and it's going to kill us, yes!"
"We tried telling the captain," John said, trying to keep calm. "And the passengers. And trying to fix it ourselves! Will you listen now?"
"You," the first mate said. "You're the one who made a fuss in the canteen."
"Er," he faltered. "Er, well, it was me and Mags—"
"What's going on?" the captain said.
He strode with the exact pace he needed. Fast enough to be urgent; slow enough to be imposing. He was flanked by several sailors, and behind him even more, some who looked like they'd just followed the crowd. Behind those, some passengers whispering in each other's ears.
The first mate gestured to the billowing steam, then to John and Magdalene.
"They caused this?"
"Yes sir."
The captain crossed his arms. "You two are the engine freaks."
"They pestered you as well?"
"Wouldn't leave my office! Kept rattling on about fires."
"Well, captain, all this is because they're not happy about it, apparently."
The captain sighed, deeply. "All this, because you weren't happy about an engine?"
"You wouldn't listen otherwise," Magdalene said firmly. John was glad she did, since he'd lost any amount of spirit he thought he had.
The captain chuckled. "You thought vandalism would make us talk about it?"
"We're talking about it right now."
"We need to stress," John said, "that the less time we spend talking the better. We have to get to the engine."
"Think of everyone you've inconvenienced with this," the captain said, tone like a disappointed parent. "Look, these machines? I don't think we have the tools to repair them mid-voyage. We'd need to dock, to get this all fixed."
"Docking!" Magdalene exclaimed. "Yes! That's exactly what we need to do, then we can tend to the engine—"
"I've heard enough," the first mate snarled. "Captain, what's the call?"
"Sabotage," he said. "Arrest them."
"Now hold on, hold on," Magdalene hurried while the sailors around them sprung to life. "Can you even arrest passengers?"
"Of course I can. You've served on ships before, haven't you?"
"No she hasn't," John said without thinking.
A different panic struck him, and Magdalene shot a severe look asking why he'd done that, but it made little difference to anything.
A sailor yanked Magdalene's arms behind her back. She yelled at him, to no effect. Someone else grabbed his own arm.
Oh. This was actually happening.
And the captain stood before him, with that grin. That grin he'd seen on the principle asking why his shoes weren't polished. The father who'd asked why he'd come home with a bloodied nose. The policeman who wanted to know how he afforded the watch inherited from his uncle.
The sickening, twisted grin, of someone who would never listen.
John had an arm free. One half of his brain gripped him. The other half knew better and kept quiet.
Punch him, it said.
And he did.
John caught him squarely in the chin, feeling his jaw shift under his fist. He stumbled back, and whoever had grabbed his arm had released it in shock.
The captain screamed something, and tried retaliating. John had been in more than enough fights, and dodged to the side giving him an opening. One step regained his footing and he prepared to swing again.
He was midway through the punch when something cracked against the back of his skull. Hard.
John stumbled forward. His vision blurred, and he tried to find which way was upwards again. Before he could, something barreled into his back and shoved him to the ground.
A knee pressed into his spine. Seconds later, another pressed into his neck.
The air squeezed out of his lungs in a pained cry. Then, he realised, he couldn't breathe back in.
"Mags!" he tried to say, which only came out as a wordless squeal.
"I think we can agree," the knees pressed harder, "this was very ill-advised."
The voice they belonged to was the not-first mate. The not-first mate! Her, the one he could never remember the title of. She'd definitely told him, and everytime he tried to remember it was swept away like dust. Maybe he should have asked for her name. Would he have bothered to remember that, anyway?
John was suffocating. And this, this was where his mind wandered to.
He tried to laugh, for it to be stuck in his throat.
A hand gripped his hair, pushing his cheek to the floor hard enough that he felt the panelling with his teeth. It felt like he'd been pinned here for hours and seconds at the same time. Not even at gunpoint could he tell anyone how long it had been.
He was at gunpoint. A barrel was pressed into his head. Another laugh died in his throat.
He moved the only thing he could, for risk of his brain splattered across the floor, and darted his eyes around. There was a crowd. More than a crowd. It looked like the whole damn ship was out to see the crew parade him as a fool.
The edge of his vision greyed.
Then, he could see Magdalene, with each arm held by a different sailor. All John could manage were desperate glances, between his eyes shutting involuntarily through jolts of pain. And she saw them, he knew she did. But there was nothing she could do. He knew that, but maybe, just maybe she could deliver his saving grace and—
A boom shook the ship.
It resonated through his chest, making his ribcage tremble. The sound cascading through his ear shoved to the ground was indescribable, and quickly dissolved to ringing. Members of the crowd screamed, and he could hear feet pounding across the deck.
And in the panic, his assailant launched to a stand. John gasped desperately for air, almost choking on it.
"What was that?" she said.
The panic didn't stop. A man in the crowd, a nobody, spoke first. The question everyone thought, but no-one wanted to say: "Was that the engine?"
The crowd quietened for a brief moment, as if to consider this, and erupted into even louder chaos.
It was weird, down here. So much noise he could choose to listen to, and instead didn't. He lay there, the white noise a hundred mouths crying panic and confusion washing over him. No voice distinct. Something primal kept telling him that he should be with them, panicking, wailing for mercy, but he simply didn't. Time didn't move for John, letting all of this happen as merely an observer, until—
"John," Magdalene said into his ear.
"Oh, Mags," he groaned, rolling onto his back. She looked like no more than a blur, but her hair identified her immediately under the fog.
"I'm sorry I just watched. If I didn't, I think that would've been the end of both of us."
"You did what you could," he breathed. "We all did."
He blinked slowly. Tears rolled out of his eyes and down the sides of his face, and suddenly he could count each one of her freckles again.
"You alright?" he said.
"I should be asking you that." Magdalene rubbed her wrists. "I'm fine."
"As long as you're sure."
Magdalene grabbed his hand, and he yelped.
She gasped. "Oh God, the burn?"
"Burns, now," he grimaced. "Both hands."
"Sorry, John." Magdalene cupped her arms under his shoulders, pulling him up. This worked well enough, and John helped push himself to a sit, resting back on his elbows.
He exhaled. "So it was the engine."
"Judging by the reaction, yes."
He looked around. The crowd that was eagerly watching their end had left them as nothing more than a memory. Some of them still remained, but suddenly the punishment of vandals had dropped off their list of priorities.
"I think," he whispered, "there's nothing left for us to try."
Magdalene's face was unreadable. Not for John's lack of trying. What was she doing? What was she thinking about?
A glint of hope sparked in him. "Unless you'd like to surprise us all?"
"You know," she smirked, "I have got one last trick up my sleeve."
* * *
Magdalene's cabin was far grander than his own. There was room for more than two pieces of furniture, for starters. The double bed shocked him the most. Running his fingertips along the sheets made it the first time he'd ever touched silk. Then he noticed the rug. The flourished wallpaper. The wardrobe almost as big as his own cabin.
A circular table was tucked in a corner, which they were both sitting at. Magdalene took a long, calculated draw from her glass, smacking her lips with a satisfied pop. "How's your neck?"
"It's been better," John grimaced, rubbing it. "But this helped a lot."
"The wine?"
"The wine, yes."
A part of him had hoped that a 'last trick' would have been more than a joke. That thought perished when the first thing she did on unlocking the door was raiding the alcohol cabinet. In there, several bottles older than he was. They'd been through enough he couldn't remember where one started and the other ended.
He could scarcely believe they were still conscious, let alone conversing.
John held their latest bottle in his hands, pretending to read the label. All he cared for was the weight—or more the lack of it. "You know Mags, this was a great idea, but now what?"
"Hm?" she said into her glass. "There's no next bit. That's the plan."
"Drinking to the last second, is it?"
"Mm," she said back into the glass.
He twirled the bottle, dregs swirling around the bottom, to illustrate the point.
Magdalene almost spat wine back into her glass, but saved it with muted coughs. "Already?"
"It's been," he began. "It's been..."
"It's been—" he choked down some vomit. "Look, I'm trying to say, it's been."
"Been... It's been..."
Magdalene squinted.
"A while!" John slammed the bottle back on the table in triumphant victory.
"I think," he sniffed. "I don't know how long, but a while."
"If the clock's right, it's been twenty minutes," Magdalene said confidently.
"There's a clock in here?"
"Ah, alright." Then he actually listened. "Wait, how do you know the time then?"
"I just, I have a feeling."
"I feel, I think. The time."
He blinked.
"Maybe, if I was a clock, and I was hung on the wall, I'd say it's been twenty minutes. If there was a clock in here. Yeah."
He blinked again. "Er."
She moaned and pressed fingers against her temples. "I don't know. I don't. Not the point."
"Not the point!" John exclaimed. "We can't drink away time if there's nothing to drink. Then we're just drinking time."
"And we're not exactly popular enough to ask others for more."
"Don't think they'd mind, at the moment." He tuned back into the ambient despair for a moment. "Bit much on their plates."
"It just feels immoral, you know?"
"They did, Mags, try to kill me."
She slumped back into her chair. "I'd still feel bad."
"And probably wanted to, probably. You, probably."
She huffed. "Fuck the wine, then."
Another boom jolted the table, the empty bottles clinking. There'd been a few of those and by now they were used to it.
John straightened from his own slump, which he didn't even realise he was in. "We could go up to the deck, I suppose."
"Would that make it better or worse?"
"I'd like to know when oblivion's going to hit, personally." John downed the rest of his wine like it was beer, slamming the glass hard enough the base chipped. "But that's me. You do what you want."
Magdalene stared down hers, empty. "I think I'll come with you."
She slammed it much like John had. Only, she slammed it with enough force a crack split through the entire glass. It shattered into a hundred pieces.
"Good grief," he whispered.
"I've had," she hiccuped, "a lot of wine."
Magdalene tried standing, and immediately stumbled to a fall. John flew out of his seat to catch her. Only barely; his own head started to swim. The two looked like someone tried to draw an embracing couple from a poor description and got the amount of limbs wrong.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"Don't be." He tried to let her go without his support, and Magdalene did with a hand on the table. Mostly.
She looked back to the shattered glass, and the drops of wine between them. "I hope no-one gets mad over that."
"I don't think people will," he half-laughed. "There won't be any to."
Their eyes met for a second, and they shared an uneasy smile.
"Er," he said, "I thought a joke would—"
"It's fine," she said, bringing herself to a, for lack of better description, stand. "It's fine."
John cleared his throat. "The deck."
"The deck!" she said with a snap of her fingers. "You lead the way. I can't see the floor."
He wasn't much better than she was, but at least his vision decided to stay with him. John walked very slowly, for once leading the way for Magdalene. He only wished he could have done so when he didn't need to stop the world rolling away.
Magdalene's cabin gave immediate access to the deck, and once the door was open, he decided it was good enough.
"Will this do?" John slumped against the railing. It wasn't the best spot for the view, not by far. But really, what difference were the clouds on this side, anyway?
"Oh, this will do." Magdalene also slumped against the railing. Her bun was loose, the tie hanging on by a thread. "This is nice."
"Nice, you know, except for—"
"Not now," she wiggled a hand. "Not yet. Not thinking about it."
John didn't want to, but couldn't stop himself.
He concentrated on the wind, and how it rustled through his hair. It was something he'd gotten used to, but now it was a distraction. Realising the clouds were at eye-level rather than below them ruined that.
"Hm," Magdalene said. "I'm thinking about it."
"I can't stop thinking about it."
Her brows furrowed, like she was running through a particularly nasty maths problem. "Eight minutes?"
"I was going to say seven."
"I don't think a minute really matters."
"I think it does, when it's one of your last."
She leaned further over the rail, her curls rolling over her cheeks. "I guess you're right."
There was another boom. A much weaker one, this time. John vaguely wondered why.
"Just thinking," Magdalene said. "Just, an idea—"
"I don't think there's a chance. No."
She made a noise halfway between a hiccup and a gasp. "How did you know my question?"
"I'm not sure what else you could be asking, right now."
Magdalene paused, then nodded.
Maybe the clouds weren't his enemy. They came in so many interesting shapes. Colours, too. Not all of them were just white, and some of them even caught the setting sun. When his focus drifted he heard screams.
Magdalene spoke again. "I've realised what I hate the most, about this."
"The death?"
"Oh, not really." She rubbed her nose. "They're going to find the wreck, is what I hate."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Because we won't be there," she said. "All they'll see, a ship run to the ground by some old crones who couldn't see what was right in front of them. That's all they'll remember," her voice quivered. "They won't know we tried to do something."
John's eyes grew wide. "No. No, they'll have to realise."
"Think about it," she stared deeply, purposefully into his eyes. "Really, you know, think about it."
He did. It started to bury deeply in his mind. That horrible, horrible realisation.
"We could..."
She held onto his arm. "Just like you said: I don't think there's a chance."
"You're right," he whispered. "I'm right."
The next boom couldn't be described as one. It started as one, but cascaded into a wretched groan John could feel inside his skull.
Magdalene held tighter. "It's an interesting way to go, John."
"You know, Mags," John smiled, "I thought I'd be scared."
The deck buckled under his feet. His heart jumped into his throat.
Then, he was.
Prompt: An airship crashing