9.

It was another three days before Kay was finally discharged from the clinic. Allegedly this was to keep her under observation, but she suspected Doc Tom simply wanted the chance to lecture her, repeatably, about workplace health and safety.

It hadn’t taken her long to learn how recognize when they were coming. He always stood in the same stance when he  Back straight, head arched to leave his chin jutting out, feet spaced apart just enough to be notable without being obvious. Somehow it naturally drew the eye towards his face, penned in on either side by the neat grey of his military crew cut. Authoritative would be how Kay described it, naturally able command attention without the need to say even a single word.

Not that he didn’t employ those as well. His lectures were as thorough as they were numerous, covering everything from proper fire extinguisher maintenance to her appalling diet. To hear him tell it, Kay was perhaps the single most unhealthy person that had ever set foot on Bright Hope.

Or at least that was the gist of what she got. Kay didn’t really bother listening, instead mostly faking it by nodding along to his words at what felt like the appropriate points. He clearly didn’t buy it for a second but still he kept at it, hammering in just how stupid it had been to run into a burning engine room. Kay was fully aware of this fact and how lucky she was to have come back out alive.

For a given value of lucky of course. Burns covered most of her arms and face, mild but no less painful until they healed. Her eyes still itched horribly from the soot that had gotten into them, made worse by the need to flush them multiple time. By far the worst of it was her lungs. The smoke and fumes she breathed in while unmasked had played right merry hell with her inside as they ravaged the delicate organ. Doc Tom had assured her it wasn’t permanent but that was hard to appreciate when it felt like her chest was being ripped open every time she so much as sneezed.

Still she had improved steadily with each passing day. The deep, painful ache had quickly eased off its grip, allowing her to briefly get up and stretch her legs. The effort always left her fatigued, and often brought her headache straight back, but progress was nonetheless made. By the end of the first day, she could rise and walk around unassisted. By the second, she could do it without losing her breath.

By the third day, Doc Tom had run out of excuses to keep her in the clinic. He did his best to make a few up, offering an impressive final lecture that combined all previous points into a single masterwork argument, but to little avail. Kay was equally well versed the art of pretending by this point and simply had to outlast the good doctor. Their little contest lasted longer than she’d expected but eventually the good doctor was forced to concede and signed her discharge form.

“Thanks doc,” Kay said, accepting the sheaf of paper.

“Thank me by going home and getting some rest,” he grumbled back.

Kay went to reply but only a sharp cough came out instead. She proceeded with the business of hacking up a lung, gladly accepting the glass of water Doc Tom offered as she stood back up. His disapproving gaze watched, hawkish, as she drank and remained fixed on her even as she handed the glass back.

“I’m fine. Universe is just being funny.”

It was a lie and they both knew it. Doc Tom cast her another withering glare for a moment before softening into something resembling a bedside manner.

“I can prescribe an inhalant if you would like. To help soothe the pain.”

“Er, no, I’m alright. I’ll make do without.”

That one was only half a lie. She was going to make do without but it was less out of a want and more to do with the price tag attached to it. She knew this brief stint in the hospital was already going to cost her dearly, she didn’t much fancy adding yet more on top of that.

Doc Tom didn’t seem particularly convinced by her answer, but he didn’t press the issue. He imparted a few more pieces of medical wisdom, some reasonable, most doomed to be ignored. Kay for her part did her best to convey her genuine thanks for saving her life. The man simply grumbled in reply before reminding her to go home and rest.

Such ended up being the first bit of advice to be ignored as Kay instead made straight for the docks. Doctor’s orders or no, there was far too much that needed doing and she had already wasted enough time sitting on her ass. It was time to get back to work.

As was becoming a distressingly common trend, the docks were empty when Kay arrived. Unsurprising given that it was the middle of the day but still, it was a frustrating reminder that perfectly good daylight was burning outside. Almost a full working week gone by without earning a single cent out of the Sea. That alone threatened to unravel all her plans and it was going to be a hell of a feat to pull things back on track.

Moving as quickly as her wounds allowed, Kay made her way over to where the Pacific lay in its berth.She hadn’t actually seen the old girl since the explosion and, from the outside at least, it was difficult to tell that anything had happened at all. The ship looked just as ramshackle as ever, the same hodgepodge of bolts, welds and prayers somehow continuing to hold her all together. From what Oscar had told her, the damage was all internal, neither blast nor fire managing to break past the walls of the engine. Indeed, it wasn’t until she descended belowdecks that the damage began to show itself.

The smell hit her first, a lingering aroma of smoke and oil fumes, mixed with the heavy stench of chemical extinguishers. Scorch marks ran along both walls, radiating out from the engine room door in an ashen halo. The door itself had been repaired to an extent, bolted back into place with new, or at least newer, hinges that creaked heavily at the slightest movement. Even still, she could see where the blast had warped the frame, leaving everything just that little bit crooked. Ugly but functional, she could only hope that the important parts of the ship had suffered a similar fate.

Bracing herself, she pulled the door open and stepped inside. A pall washed over her as she did so, the same smell of oil and burning becoming so thick that she could taste it on the air. It made for a jarring contrast, as the room itself was cleaner than she’d seen it in a long time. Large swaths of the walls and floor had been scrubbed clean of soot and grime, revealing the dull steel that sat underneath. Looking at it from the right angle, Kay could almost convince herself that everything was fine, and that someone had simply played a bizarre prank on her.

Of course, that ‘right angle’ in this case meant that any angle where she couldn’t see the right-hand wall. Looking in that direction, Kay was treated to the truly disheartening sight of the adjoining engine in pieces. The central cylinder had been split open like a fish to reveal the mechanical innards, a complex nest of interlocking gears, shafts, fans, belts and wires that she could barely make sense of.

Like the walls, the engine looked remarkably undamaged, the pieces merely looking old and worn rather than the warped and destroyed she’d been expecting. Oscar sat on a small stool in the middle of it all, hunched over one of the larger bits of machinery with wrench in hand. The sound of the door creaking made him look up as Kay entered.

“Hey,” he said, curious, worried and happy all in the same syllable. “Thought you were still in hospital?”

“Doc let me off on good behavior.”

Oscar’s eyebrow went up at that and he was about to say something else when Kay cut him off.

“I’m fine Oscar. Really.”

He obviously didn’t believe her, making no effort to hide the fact, but didn’t protest. Before a truly awkward silence could settle on them, Kay asked the only salient question.

“How is she?”

Oscar blew out his lips, glancing around at the devastation with a look that spoke volumes more than any words could have. His eyes wandered from point to point, as if trying to find a good place to start in the mess. Kay was mildly insulted when his eyes eventually settled back on her.

“It’s…bad. Could be worse but, yeah, bad.”

Kay grimaced, working to keep a calm expression on her face.

“What broke? That oil thing you were watching?”

Oscar shook his head. “Nah, although that didn’t help.”

He gestured her over to a section of the wall, pointing a long cylindrical object within, which she quickly recognized part of the engine’s cooling system. A part that had seen better days going by the large hole melted in the side of it.

“The seal gave out on this while we were spinning up. Started dumping heat back into the system and, well, something had to give eventually.”

“And that something was?” Kay asked.

“Engine took the brunt of it,” He gestured around at the room at large. “That’s what most of this is.”

Kay felt the mask becoming harder and harder to hold but still she managed the task, catching only a slight warble as she asked the ultimate question.

“Can you fix it?”

“Not likely,” Oscar said. “All we can do is replace it.”

The words were like a needle to the little bubble of hope that had been holding on in her chest. Slight as it had been, some small part of her had thought that maybe, just maybe, the universe would pay her back with the one lucky break that might allow her to salvage this. A busted engine she could have accounted for, one holding on by a thread she could make work.  But damaged beyond repair? That was worst case scenario. A worst-case scenario she now found herself smack dab in the middle.

 Some of this mental spiral must have shown on her face because Oscar was suddenly standing next her, hand half raised to her shoulder.

     “Hey, are you alright? You look pale.”

Kay shook herself back to the moment, managing to make herself dizzy in the process. She felt Oscar’s hand settle on her arm, probably hoping to steady her, but instead Kay found herself taking a step back, breaking the contact with a sharp pull of her arm.

When everything settled, the two of them stood less than two feet apart but it might as well have been miles. Kay tried to grasp at something to say, all too aware of the hurt look on Oscar’s face. It was quickly covered by worry as he raised his hand again, although he did keep his distance this time.

“I think we should get you home. We’ll worry about this tomorrow.”

“I’m fine Oscar,” Kay said, through her voice lacked any conviction.

“Don’t doubt it, you’re going anyway.”

Kay wanted to protest, argue that they had far more important things to be doing right now, but the fight had gone out of her. Despite having spent the last three days in bed, she could think of nothing else she’d rather do right now then sleep.

Nodding her silent agreement, Kay turned towards the door and began to slowly shuffle back out into the hall. Oscar kept pace with her, offering a shoulder to lean on which she gratefully took. Together, they climbed back up onto deck and onto the docks, settling into a slow pace for the long trip back to her apartment.

“Thanks,” Kay said. It was the only word she could manage.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Oscar said offering her a smile. “We’ll figure it out. We always do.”

Kay could offer nothing but a weak smile in return, finding for the first time that she did not believe him.  

*

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