Except that that doesn't seem to be happening. There is something firm in your ribcage and belly, knocking what wind out of you you still had, and your knees have long since gone out from under you, and you are indeed sinking to the deck—but slowly, slowly, and not face first after all. When things finally start making some sort of sense again, you find yourself lying legs-tangled supine on the boards, looking up into a blur of russet and cream that resolves, as you blink your eyes clear, into the worried face of your watchmate Lu.

She must've caught you as you fell, saved you a nasty blow to the face at the very least—ah, yes, there's a smear of slime and ichor down the shoulder and chest of her oilskin. You try to reach up and wipe away the mess, but your muscles don't seem interested in listening to any request you might make of them just now; your body is keeping its own counsel at the moment, chest heaving in the great convulsive breaths that are already starting to ease the pain of your exertion, and beyond that simply—nothing. You've never in your life felt so limp, so spent.

You are focusing, though, and after staring hard into your eyes a few moments, the worry in Lu's expression fades. She settles back on her haunches, half turning to the captain, and says, "She'll be fine. Sore as anything tomorrow, but fine." Captain Hua only nods, her own expression as stony as ever, and it's a mercy that you can't muster the energy for guilt or shame or dread as she meets your gaze—but briefly, before she walks to the starboard rail and leans over, raising her glass from a pocket in the robe—her glass, in its owner's hands once more. At least that much you've got right by her tonight.

A moment later, she snaps the glass shut and pockets it again, turning from the rail and coming back over—back over to where Quen, you see, is once again kneeling on the deck, hands still bound behind her, head still bowed. Still shaking, you are interested to see. But why would she be crying? Because she failed in her aim, before? Because Lu saw through her deception? Because—but the captain has just spoken, and though it takes a moment for her words to sink in, when they do they cut like ice:

"It's gone."

So it has not only fled your mind, then. The great deep thing has dived away from your world, too, no doubt for good—why after all should it return? It so nearly died at the hands of some other crew, some other ship, monsters who would murder it simply for being the manner of thing that it is—after that, why would it ever come back? Surely it never will. And surely you will never again know its touch in your mind, its grip of your body. You find you cannot even weep, just now, although the great hollow that's opened within you at your captain's words tells you that, soon enough, you will—that in whatever private moments you can find, you will sorrow in full measure, and some part of you, you think, will never stop.

But at least it is alive. And perhaps it will think of you, too.

It takes a moment, again, to realize that Lu has spoken.

"The harpoon?"

It is very distant. You're not seeing or hearing much of the world, just now; your eyes are open and tracking, your ears likewise still working, but your attention is all inward turned, surveying the vast emptiness within yourself which you cannot escape just now.

It is strange, you think, rather absently—there being little enough of yourself which is not absorbed in limning that hollow, as one's tongue will explore the negative space of a drawn tooth once the forceps have done their agonizing work and the pain has begun to recede. Not love you're feeling, you know. You don't even understand what the word means, not properly; you know it only as an abstraction, a curiosity, no more applicable to your own experience of life than the sensation of flight. No, what you feel now is just—need. An enormous longing for something you know, you know, you will never know again. Love—no. But loneliness? Oh, indeed. Loneliness whose profundity is in itself no small shock.

Thus absorbed, it takes you a little while to notice that Captain Hua is again staring you dead in the eyes. Odd you should not find this terrifying, unbearable, as you did before—odd that guilt and dread should not again struggle for primacy in your breast. But against the great vast void at the center of you, both pale to insignificance. And anyway, isn't there something different about the captain's face, now? Some change at last in that granite expression that struck such terror into your heart only so little a while ago? Surely there's something, but it's hard to tell what. So you rally your exhausted self, blink your eyes again free of tears you do not recall shedding, and really look