Chapter 2: The Map says 'Go Here'
Timeline: Before the chase.
Lunch had come and passed; leftovers from a thick seafood stock sat on the stove, covered lazily with a rag to keep the flies away. A slab of hard bread laid on the counter, knife sticking from the crust vertically. He would get to it in a moment. He was more interested in the book that someone had left in the kitchen probably no more than an hour earlier. It wasn't the kind he normally read. Those books were easy to grasp, easier to imagine, even without illustrations, and most of the men would hand them back and forth giggling in their dark hammocks. It was a childish pastime but there was little material of substance to be had on ships with dim crews, especially pirate crews - save that this crew was one of the strangest he had ever seen.
His tongue and mind slipped on some of the words so he took his time on every page, the smooth paper beneath his fingers. It was most likely the passenger who had left it, the scientist with his awkward nature. He was always reading one thing or another, glasses sliding off his nose.
It was a history book as far as he could tell. Every ten pages or so, there was an illustration. A map or an etching. He took those in thoughtfully.
From the other side of the long galley, the door opened. Nicholai glanced up from the book and saw the captain. With her, she dragged an unfamiliar girl, a girl like one of the dolls his sisters used to play with when they were small. His brow furrowed at the stranger. A stowaway, he guessed right off; how else would he have remained ignorant of her?
"Mr. Doran," said the captain as she got closer.
"Cap'n," he muttered in a low voice, with a nod. He sat on the counter beside the sink, one leg folded and the other hanging off lazily. He set down the book to his side.
All Nasrin could do was wonder why other people would always stare at her. They would pass and she could feel their eyes slide over her like touches. Sometimes like caresses and sometimes like groping. This felt like poking. Gripping the key tightly, so tight that if she was using her other hand it would probably crack the porcelain. Shifting on her feet, most people felt their heartbeat when they were nervous, Nasrin just felt every sensation of metal shifting.
It seemed like everything in her was so loud when it really only sounded like a clock ticking if someone was to listen closely. Nasrin avoided looking at the man staring so owlishly at her. And then only slightly looked at him through her eyelashes when the man, 'Mr. Doran' if the 'Captain's' statement was correct, stopped looking at her.
Daenelia looked from Nicholai to Nasrin then back to him. "This is. . ." Hesitating with her name, the girl hadn't been exactly clear with her name. "Nasrin." The girl didn't object so she went with that. "Feed her." Simple order, no need to elaborate something obvious. Nudging Nasrin gently towards a box she could sit on, "Sit," trying to sound gentle.
Obediently and quickly Nasrin set herself down, crossing her legs automatically and resting the large belt key in her lap. Eyes never went much higher than a person's waist. Tick, tick, tick went on in her ears. There was no hunger in her body, just. . . tension. If she said so. . . would they throw her over? If they did would she bleed blood or oil. She took this movement of awkward to glance around the room. " . . ."
Nick shared a final look with the captain before she nodded curtly and left the room, heels clicking on the floorboards. Sliding down from the counter, he set about heating the stew again and carved a chunk of bread from the loaf. He glanced behind briefly at the girl. He might not have ever seen a girl like her before, but he had certainly seen girls dressed as she was.
"You can sit at the table," Nicholai said to her, gesturing to the table, stained and splattered. It needed a wash and a good scrubbing. Just one more thing to do. On the burner, the stew started to bubble lazily.
When he heard the shuffle of dainty feet on the floor and the rough sound of the bench being pulled back to make room, he asked her, "Where'd ya hide? Below?"
The table felt the same as the box. The box had been cleaner too. Not that she could complain or anything, but it seemed like she was just taking up space. Distracting herself with staring at a scratch on the wood, it was shaped almost like a bird. Or maybe a fish. Pressing a gloved finger to it, barely feeling the indentation of where a knife had dug in.
Shoulders jumped and tensed when he asked her a question. Though it seemed like he had answered it himself within a second. Pressing her ankles together and gripping the key once more. They certainly asked a lot, no one on the Copper Siren had ever questioned her about much. It was easier being ignored. One of the vials bubbled as she inhaled and pressed the key back in, gears turning stiffly as she did so.
"Down-Down-By-Barrels-Boxes-Dead-Things-Wood-Silence." Nasrin stopped talking and the gears and ticking continued.
She talked like a mechanism. If it wasn't for her eyes, he would have thought her a mechanical doll, taught to wind itself up and imitate life.
"How long did you plan on hidin' down there?" He asked, ladling a spoonful of food into a bowl. He put the bowl in front of her with a piece of bread and filled a dented cup with rum, the one thing they had in great supply on the ship.
"I-Don't-" The ticking stopped and it sounded like her voice cracked and broke. Maybe it was fortunate that it did, she wasn't sure about it herself. It had been a decision made in half a second. Nasrin knew it was exactly that because the gear in the joint of her left ankle had done half a rotation.
Deciding she'd take a bite of the food before answering the rest of the question. The actions were instinctual, gently pulling either glove from her hands and folding them softly in her lap. The steam from the soup floated up and steamed up the porcelain parts of her skin. Still not really looking at him as she ripped off a bit of the bread and chewed it thoughtfully. Her stomach was clenched but he might get mad if she didn't eat it.
After swallowing it like a lump in her throat she turned the key two rotations. "It-Didn't-Matter." As long as she was away from her Captain.
Strange. Nicholai watched her from his place against the counter, arms crossed across his chest. The ticking from her body was like a giant clock that resounded and echoed to him. His eye twitched uncomfortably, and he felt a shiver go down his spine. She swallowed the food as though it were rancid but never made a face.
"You don't have to eat it," he said. But he couldn't understand how she couldn't be hungry after a week out at sky; there was no food below, it was all kept within his reach close to the galley. Perhaps she really didn't need food and was more like a doll than he had initially realized. It would be one less mouth to feed but she looked the sort to be easily taken advantage of, silent and pretty-like.
Little to offer, he still asked, "Can I get you anythin' else?"
Ringlets of blonde hair danced around her shoulders as Nasrin shook her head briskly. There was nothing she could really ask for from a cook, the most she would need was something to make things run smoother. Otherwise she might eventually stick in place because the connectors got too rusty. And even though fear was preventing hunger, she wasn't going to waste food. Even if she couldn't really taste very much. But the texture of the bread was nice so she chewed and swallowed another piece from it.
Stealing a glance at the cook, she tilted her head in curiosity. Probably farther than a real human could actually do. The way he spoke was so odd, it was like he didn't finish his words. Turning the key, forced to by curiosity. "Why-DOo-You-Talk-Ku-ku-Like-Ku-That-t-t?"
He raised an eyebrow beneath shaggy hair. "I talk funny?" That was certainly ironic coming from this mechanical wonder. He heard the occasional squeak in those gears, imperceptible to some but Nick was not normal and his senses were not those of normal people. A part of him was annoyed by it, some dark little part, but really he was just intrigued. Seeing the same crew over and over every day was tiresome, especially when one was worried that they would find out how unstable he could be.
"Y'never heard some'un with an accent like mine?" He asked her. She wouldn't know what to do with Farley; that woman talked faster than a salesman and half the stuff that spilled out of her mouth was inconsequential.
The hair jumped again as she shook her head. If anyone had an accent they were either nowhere near the Captain or not even on board. Even the way her speech jumped around because the metal was no replacement for the human voice was barely tolerated. More so because she just never spoke. "Captain-Tain-Didn't-t-t-Allow-Imperfec-fect-fections."
And skipping letters in a word would be considered an imperfection. Nothing but the best for the Captain, everyone had to be speaking crisply and well-groomed. If they weren't went he looked around then off the edge they went. Little echoing screams of bye, bye. Nasrin's throat itched, well it couldn't really itch considering it wasn't there, but it was getting dry. Talking and chewing, all things not usually done by her. Usually they'd just pour oil down her throat, maybe the rum would help? Holding the glass daintily, sipping it with care.
"Nice man," he mumbled, thinking of his own imperfections. He sighed and crossed to the table, sitting down across from the girl. He grabbed his own bottle of rum on the way and took a gulp as he settled. In the light, he felt exposed but even down here the light was only so bright. The gash that was his left eye was still hidden half in shadow.
"How did you get away then?" Nick asked her when she tipped the glass back and swallowed, not without some difficulty.
Blinking brown eyes at him blankly, shrinking back as he sat down across from her. Well, the rum hadn't acted as the lubricant she had hoped. In fact, it burned a little. Nasrin had little experience with alcohol, she was kept away from most of the workers and the Captain only drank absinthe (which she wasn't allowed to touch). It was a long story of her escape, longer than she was willing to turn the key for.
It involved waiting, and planning, and a lot of courage. Waiting for when he put her key down, when he was distracted. A mechanical, choked sigh came from her mouth. She wished it would sound normal, turning the key a few times. "Waited-Ti-Till-Sunday-day-Captain-tain-With-Joyce-Took-K-K-My-K-Keys-Whac-whacked-Dy-Dylan. . ." Grasping the over sized key clasped to her belt. ". . ." Looking back towards him. "It's-Heavy. Ef-ef-effective." Especially against the back of someone's head.
Looked heavy. Nick's good eye went from that key to her perfect porcelain face, those wide eyes. There was a silence between them; the ship rocked in the clouds, creaked and screeched gently like the rise and fall of an old man's chest as he breathed, wheezy. With a small sigh, Nicholai reached across the table and took her bowl of stew. It was already growing cold and she had been picking at it with only the vaguest interest. Perhaps a machine like her did need oil and a polishing like any other instrument. But she said nothing and he had already pried more than he ought have.
"D'the cap'n tell you where you can stay?" He scraped the stew from her bowl back into the large pot and stowed it away safely. Wouldn't go bad any time soon. Nicholai glanced back to her, sitting small at the table.
"D'you sleep?" A curious little thing, he couldn't help but ask questions.
" . . ." Lips parted and nothing came out. Nasrin frowned, the rotations had already ended? They were getting shorted. She'd really need to clean out everything. Swallowing and then rubbing her face. Something close to outrage sparked in her eyes. Of course she slept! She was still human! A bunch of metal parts inside her, but she was still a person.
Nicholai raised his eyebrows.
Crossing her arms and considering just sitting quietly for the rest of the time. But that would be rude, and she wasn't rude. Or so Nasrin kept telling her herself. Turning her key again, ".O'toole?-Someone's-Room-m-. . ." Pulling her gloves back on slowly. "Of-Course-I-Sleep," She added slowly and quietly, with almost a hunt of sadness in her tone.
He didn't mean to offend. Nick cleared his throat awkwardly and suggested showing her to her room. She nodded, daintily, as far as those strange joints would allow, and stood up, smoothing her doll-like skirts across her lap. Before they left, he grabbed the book he'd been reading.
Nasrin looked at everything, eyes wide as saucers, as they ascended stairs and came up into the daylight. The sound of waves came from far below, crashing occasionally but mostly drifting the smell of salty water. Gulls flew by sometimes, calling in clipped voices. The cabin came upon them quickly and he showed her in. Luckily O'toole wasn't about. Nicholai would have left a note for her, but he wasn't confident in his words and he wasn't sure the woman knew how to read anyway.
So he told the mechanical girl to take it up with her or get help from the captain, and left her to resume his place in the kitchen, already opening his book by the time he went below.