((26 - Compass Rose))
April 24th, 802 AT
Gears and cogs rattled, steam vented and metal clanged--music to the masterful hand of Kasby Bellwood. No time to stop and enjoy it, though. Kasby was focused on his work with an intensity he hadn't felt for ages. With a wrench in his hand and a more delicate instrument in the other, Kasby's tools danced across the fledgeling machine. "The engine core is almost reassembled, Jaz."
Jaz stuck her head round the machine, quickly swiping a hand across her stinging eyes. "Good," she said, shortly. "Almost done over here, too." Her hair was standing straight up, streaked with grease from her gloveless hands, which moved with no less surety on the inner workings of the baby ship. She cast a glance behind her at the parts strewn everywhere, then bit her lip and turned back to her work.
The nervous gesture didn't escape Kasby, but he knew he could do little to ease the suffering. For most scientists, their ship was their home--they spent more time in that cramped little contraption than at any base. Stories were forged and broken there... it hurt him to take apart the Archimedes, but he had long abandoned it as his true home. The pain wasn't half of Jaz's. "What Sector did you and the Oliver come from, anyway?" asked Kasby, trying to take her mind off of the reality of her work.
"Sector Four. Took me a good while to get here." She swallowed, knowing that those extra months before she'd even left had cost Kasby his crew. "I am so sorry about that, Kasby. I wish I could've gotten here sooner, I wish I never had to come at all, but..." She sighed, and knew that he couldn't blame her. This sort of thing happened all the time. It was to be mourned, and then borne, because there was nothing else to do. But she couldn't help but wish that it didn't have to be Kasby that had suffered such a loss.
The cranking of the wrench stopped, and Kasby was silent for a short while. "I... I know. Nothing you could have done." he said quietly. "Nothing I could have done either, honestly. If I had been at the base, I would been just one more number on the body count. Nothing you could have done either... I'm glad you could come at all, even if it was in the aftermath."
Jaz came around the side of the engine, wiping her hands on her already-dirty clothing and leaning against the wall next to Kasby, looking at him. "Me, too. Despite all the madness, despite all the fear and this...magic, that these people have. Despite...what I left, I'm glad I came."
Kasby's dropped the tools he held and leaned back against the wall, staring out into the open hanger and into the Void. "...Why? We're thousands of miles from anything but demons, surrounded by people who don't like or appreciate us, and we're about to set off on a suicide mission to a place where nobody has ever set foot before." He let out a heavy breath. "I'm tired. I've been fighting, alone, for so long... I just don't know if I can do it. I don't know if I'm the one who's supposed to do all of this," he said, his voice falling. "Why are you glad you came?"
"Because from here, we have a chance to end all of this. From here, we can make a difference." She slid down the wall next to him. "If I weren't here, I'd still be out in deep space, surrounded by nothing but demons, fighting for my life, waiting for that one blow I'm too slow to block, that one demon that'll have my blood on his hands rather than vice versa." She turned to look at him. "And I'd be doing it alone."
He met her gaze and searched for her hand with his own. "... I'm going because of the offchance that you're right, and we can make a difference. I decided that already. To protect every last man, woman and child in the Void... that's by noble cause." A smile, now, gentle. "That was my oath when I first flew my ship, surrounded by family. Surrounded by friends." He paused. "...Full circle, isn't it. It's the oath I take once more... and once more am I surrounded by people I care about. People I love." he said, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
Jaz smiled at him and twined her fingers around his. "I never bothered to take an oath," she said, as if it had never even occurred to her. "I just...it's what I do. I do it because I'm good at it, and it's what I've always done, and..." She paused, then continued as if stepping across a threshold. "There's a certain joy in it. I don't mean the fact that I'm making the world a better place, it's darker than that. The demons, they...they're horrible. And when there's two approaching, and a single slash down the center of one and a cut across the midsection of the other...wiping the black, the green, the red blood from your blade..." She stopped. "There's a certain beauty in effeciency, I suppose." Her voice was unsure, though, that this was what she was trying to say. She stood.
Kasby looked pensive, more than anything. He slumped further against the wall. "Not for me. I've never felt any joy in battle... nothing like what you described, anyway. In the best situations, ruthless efficiency is the most I can hope for. Detached killing. In the worst situations... well, it's a prey response. Fighting for your life, terrified beyond all reason. There's no joy in battle for me."
"I'm sorry, Kasby." Jaz looked down at him, crumpled against the wall, and crouched next to him. "I'm sorry for so many things. I'm sorry about your crew, your family. I'm sorry that it has to come to this madcap suicide. I'm sorry that you ever had to live this life, and I'm sorry you get no joy from it, I'm sorry for all the fear, and the deaths, and the demons, and the Void." She leaned forward and smoothed his hair back. "And I want to thank you for that oath, and to thank you for doing this for better reasons than I do. I want to thank you for not just giving up." She leaned forward and kissed him, smirking slightly. "So thank you."
Her lips left a smile across his- shy, quiet but there. "Don't be so sorry. It's the life I lead- and continue to lead, and always will lead. I've made peace with that." He stood, and kissed her back. "But thank you for the thank -yous," he said with a grin.
She twined her arms around his neck. "We SHOULD get back to work..." She said, holding his eyes with hers and matching his grin.
His own hands wrapped around her, settling in the small of her back. He smirked mischievously and brightly. "Saving humanity can wait a little while."
She leaned in for another kiss, twirling her fingers in his hair.
A beat of wings, in the Void, almost matched their syncopated heartbeats, but grew louder and louder and louder. The demon's face rose over the hangar's entrance, huge and made of eyes and teeth and tongues, flapping and slipping and slithering in the mist. There seemed to be nothing BUT face, attached to three sail-like wings that flapped in strange rhythm. The demon let out a hiss of hate and bloody joy and threw itself into the hangar.
There was a hollow ticking sound as Kasby's clockwork dart-pistol left his holster. He squeezed the trigger, the weapon twanging as it sunk a long crystal shard deep into the vitals of the beast. He never opened his eyes or broke the kiss.
The demon's wingbeats faltered and its eyes closed. Its tongues slowed in their constant slurping of the air, but its angry momentum carried it onwards, tumbling through the air towards the couple.
Jaz pulled back a moment and gave him a grin before closing her eyes and kissing him again, long and deep. As soon as it was close enough, she drew the long crystal sword from her hip and in a single motion sliced the thing from bottom to top, splitting one of the tongues neatly down the middle. The creature fell to either side of the two, dead, and Jaz's sword was back in her sheath.
"This place is so romantic..." grinned Kasby, strolling past the corpse and falling back into the elevator with her. He tapped the "Housing" floor, and the doors snapped shut on the grinning couple.