This time, I cooked up an easygoing little tale of love and loyalty. “‘Kill your darlings,’ the Captain, usually a timid man, sneered, before he sank his teeth into the raw steak” is the opening line, suggested by my long-time partner in crime, Sam Lake. As always, he brings the good stuff.
“Kill your darlings,” the Captain, usually a timid man, sneered, before he sank his teeth into the raw steak. He was drunk and angry. The great strategist was a cornered rat. He was coming apart. “Not that I can call you that anymore, you fucking traitor.”
Malcolm tried to respond, but it was too hard. He was nude, chained by his wrists to one of the structural support beams that ran along the ceiling of the Captain’s cabin. His rubbery legs kept slipping away from under him. Whenever that happened, his wrists took his weight, the metal digging into them painfully, and he had to struggle to get his feet working again. In the chorus of his pain, that was the tiniest voice.
The Captain was eating his dinner at his desk, glaring at Malcolm. The scars on his shaved head, the mementos of the Hegemony slave rig, looked red and raw. They never healed properly. The Captain wiped the juice off his chin and poured more wine. He looked tired and thin. Haggard.
Malcolm heard the pitter patter of his blood dripping on the floor. He shivered. The cabin was cold. The ship’s vibration ran along the chain into his wrists, the thrumming of its drive a constant ache that resonated in his bones. He ran a tongue over his remaining teeth again, trying to feel which ones had been knocked out by the Captain’s boys. His mouth was an alien landscape. Everything was swollen, out of place. The boys knew how to beat a man within an inch of his life.
He swallowed some blood and tried to focus.
“I’m sorry,” Malcolm said. “They made me.”
The Captain snorted.
“I know you have to do what you have to do,” Malcolm said. “I don’t blame you. But they made me.”
“I have family. My brother… they’re holding him. An insurance policy. Keeps me in line.”
“He’s all I got. Except for you.”
The Captain didn’t say anything.
“I love you,” Malcolm said, and now the Captain looked away. “I do,” Malcolm said.
“It’s all right,” Malcolm said. His voice was soft, weak. “The moment I was found out, I knew you’d have to kill me. Otherwise they’d say you were weak. But I know you aren’t.”
“Just – one thing. Please. I know you can’t let me go. But forgive me.”
“I don’t think so.”
A tear ran down Malcolm’s cheek, and his voice cracked. “Please. I’m not afraid to die. You know that. But I don’t want to die with you hating me.”
The Captain closed his eyes. “Shut up.”
“Please. You have no idea how afraid I’ve been for two years now, living a lie. And that’s on me, I know. But it wasn’t all a lie. Not for me. I kept trying to find a way to tell you. Warn you. To flip it, find a way to save my brother. So I could be with you.”
In one swift move, the Captain swept his wine glass off the desk. It exploded against the wall. “You’re a liar! You’re a spy and an assassin! You took us apart. You lured my fleet to its destruction. And you were going to kill me.”
“No! Please, it wasn’t like that. Yes, the fleet – I did that. No choice. And yes, I… God, you’re the architect of the slave revolt. They said you were a terrorist. And I was supposed to find a way to kill you somehow… but I knew better. I saw the kind of man you are. And I couldn’t. I couldn’t.”
The Captain said nothing.
Malcolm let out a wail of despair. “Please, sir. You have to believe me. Please.”
His legs buckled, and the chain went tight. He tried to find his feet, but he was too weak.
But the Captain was there, holding him up like he weighed nothing. The skinny man was much stronger than he looked. Malcolm lifted his head, and he saw the Captain’s eyes inches from his own. They were wet. Malcolm smelled his breath.
“Damn you, Malcolm,” the Captain whispered. He wound a fist in Malcolm’s hair, held his head up. “I can’t let you live. I can’t.”
“I know. I know.”
“I wish to God I could. You have no idea.”
“I know. I love you,” Malcolm said. He slurred. His mouth felt thick and useless. It was hard getting the words out. His teeth felt loose. They weren’t where they belonged.
“Don’t say that,” the Captain said.
“I love you.”
The Captain leaned his forehead against Malcolm’s, his voice a shuddering whisper. “I love you too.”
Smiling was the hardest thing Malcolm had ever done. His face didn’t want to work properly. He was bone tired, but he made it work.
“Oh, God,” the Captain said.
“I know I’m a wreck,” Malcolm said.
“It doesn’t matter. You’re beautiful to me. My beautiful boy.”
He leaned in for the kiss.
Malcolm’s mouth was a hot mess. His tongue was thick and unwieldy. The Captain’s lips pressed against his. He tasted meat and wine. Malcolm took a deep breath.
He found the tooth, pressed his own tongue against it as hard as he could, got some torque. It came loose, twisted to the side.
He bit down. Something cracked; sweetness flooded his mouth. Suddenly, everything was made of perfume. He exhaled hard.
The Captain broke off, confused.
Malcolm’s lungs burned white hot. His throat constricted. The Captain staggered back. His hands flew up to his neck, tore at his clothes. Muscles and tendons bulged hard, stretching the skin. The Captain gurgled. His knees folded. He hit the deck hard. He gazed up at Malcolm.
Malcolm’s mouth was desert dry. He tried to speak. Nothing came out.
The Captain’s throat was now wider than his head. Malcolm worked up some spit, managed a toneless croak.
“I don’t have a brother,” he said. “The Hegemony prevails.”
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