It is, as always, not quite midnight when I unweave myself from the tangle of Anna’s unbound hair over our shared pillow and take the spare blanket. If our days apart are marked by the predictions of a clockwork orrery, so our nights together have the congruity of a metronome and my ramblings are no more than the program of an automaton after all.
We thought, once, that we stole time together; now I steal my own moments away, fighting sleep until the regularity of her breath tells me it is safe to leave. I promised her I would not keep her safe. In this, as in many things before, she has made a liar of me. I cannot be trusted any more in my sleep than while I wake.
The balcony floor is cold as my regrets beneath bare feet.
Below the Empyrean’s cliffside sprawl, the city of Oas with its thousand bridges spangles the ground. The night-hawkers are ready for the last of the bar crowd; the markets are nearly shut up. This close to Festival they stay open late, or so I have been told. I rely more and more, these days, on the reports of stewards and junior crew for my intel. I will have to get myself out of the habit before long, remember how it was to be Belyn Morrow, of Fleet. Just “Fleet” – no Branch. That part of my dossier, like the orders that brought me here a dozen years ago, is recorded only on the black box of a starship long sailed.
It is unthinkable that it was not noticed, what we did in the North. Impossible that no satellite traced our journey, that no message has been sent. It has only been a decade since we lost contact with the satellites, a handful of years since the last message from Outside.
They will be coming. And all I know is ten years out of date. Politics and politicians change; it might as easily be an enemy as an ally that lands, in a ship of design so new it was not imagined when I brought the Epiphany to her last berth on the sands outside this city.
All these things conspire to disturb my sleep in a way that I thought I had done with since Maasym. I refuse, still, to become one of the old Fleet warhorses up all night in their uniforms and medals, brandy in one hand and pistol in the other, waiting for the dreams to come. If nothing else, it is an unkindness to one’s staff, to have to deal with such things. But I understand them better now, those silver-hairs on the last of their rejuv, who knew where all the exits were, whose eyes were never still and steady. I do not sit up, so; I am tucked up safe in my bed again before morning, and no-one the wiser for my midnight ramblings.
Inside, Anna stirs and mutters in her sleep; below me the city gathers itself to its own rest. They mark the days of Festival here in regrets, promises, wishes, and I have carried my fair share of all three. What, then, will I send skyward with my lanterns tomorrow night, save an empty bed and an untold secret?
I curl onto the divan and wait to find out, watching what might or might not be a falling star.