I slept with him. Not Nogilian, of course. I wanted someone who might laugh. I called Ash to me in the night, all eagerness and boyish credulity. Commanders have been doing this forever, a simple resetting of the chemistry. I stopped him while we were undressing in the flickering light a few candles gave my tent. I knew he’d wanted this forever, probably since Ariel. I made certain he knew it wasn’t anything else. We forsook most of the preliminaries. I have not been one for romance. Not since, well, I suppose it doesn’t matter when.
But that was only how it all changed, or started to. I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you how bad things were before that, or how long it went on. It was the blackbrain, of course, I knew that. I was not an idiot. The bacteria or virus or parasite wanted me to throw myself off the cliffs and down into the waves so the bloodfish could strip me to the bone. I surprised Ki by having sufficient awareness to ask the question: why? We were a long ways from Redmarak. That wasn’t swamp down there.
“Oh,” she said, her brow furrowing. “There are different kinds of bloodfish. In the ocean they form vast schools. They’re less of a problem than in Redmarak because if you’re on the ocean, you’re already in a pretty big boat. And of course there are larger fish that prey on them.”
I got the feeling they didn’t swim much for fun on this world.
Ki left after seeing I was medically sound. I wondered where her expertise came from. She seemed totally uninterested in my emotional responses. Only Nogilian was more brusque, coming each morning and evening to report and to ask if I had new orders. I didn’t. But hearing the disposition of the troops and of supplies and morale reminded me of my days in the Academy. It was the only break in my routine, the only time that felt less horrid than any other.
Days fled. It either rained or it didn’t. I sat beneath my awning at night when I couldn’t sleep. It seemed like it was always night. And I could never sleep. Funny, the only time I wasn’t consumed by the urge to throw myself in was when I was looking over the precipice. I could stare at the waves and pretend. Often, though, I did lean forward. Many times I felt my weight shift, teetering on the brink. I wouldn’t let them tie me like in Redmarak. I needed to learn how to do this.