When Booker had stopped dreaming about Quynh, he and Nicky had feared, hoped, that at last a final death had been merciful to their friend. In the scarce week since Nile’s awakening, Yusuf has come to believe that instead, the youngster had just merely stopped mentioning them.
“If it’s destiny that I’ll find her...” Nile whispers over a cup of Nicky’s excellent cocoa after once again waking in tears.
Yusuf meets Nicky’s eyes and finds nothing but resolve. Agreement. When they meet up with Copley tomorrow, he will name the one condition Andy would never dare to bring up herself.
- - -
It takes twenty-seven years. The initial problem is the same as ever – no one left alive knows precisely where in the Atlantic Quynh was dumped. There are five hundred years of currents and sediments as well as, their research reminds them, continental drift and several seaquakes.
Humans have long been scouring the seabed for wrecks but an Iron Maiden is a tiny thing.
Nile still dreams but just as Booker when he still spoke of them, she never sees anything that could count as a landmark. There’s only water, fish, and pain.
It takes twenty-seven years. It takes thirteen lifetimes.
- - -
Andromache is the one who dives into the ocean. Andromache is the one who swims down through the water – it’s calm right now and far too beautiful to see.
Andromache is the one who spots the monstrosity and almost breaks at the sight of the woman struggling inside, Andromache who cannot help but waste precious moments and watch, helpless, as Quynh dies and lives and dies, twice, three times, unaware of Andromache just outside, stretching out a hand toward the faceplate.
The water is quiet. If Quynh still has a voice to scream with, it does not reach Andromache’s ears.
- - -
Andromache fastens the boat’s heavy chains around the monstrosity - why could those people centuries ago not have had shoddier workmanship, why has the iron not corroded and allowed Quynh to break out?
She had feared to find the Iron Maiden overgrown by algae, buried in the sand. She had feared that she would be forced to resurface to get better equipment, leave Quynh behind – but when Andromache signals her team the chains pull taut and the monstrosity lifts off and rises, rises.
Quynh dies seven more times on the journey. Andromache yells in languages long forgotten the whole time.
- - -
Joe and Nicky descend upon the Iron Maiden with Joe’s state of the art laser cutter and Nicky’s bare hands. The seams are corroded in places, but not enough that Quynh could have kicked her own prison apart during her agonizing seconds of life. Not yet, not for another century.
Behind them, Nile has hauled Andy over the railing and is making short work of their leader’s deep sea diving gear. Copley is telling his crew to set course for land.
Nicky, muttering a prayer, wrenches the cursed lid off and Joe, gentle and firm, pulls their friend to freedom.
- - -
The woman Nile spent countless nights dreaming about is alive. She’s alive, coughing and struggling weakly in Joe’s arms, taking a breath, another breath, letting out a keening sound that turns into a scream.
Then Andy is there, grasping Quynh’s shoulders, saying words that must mean You’re safe, I found you, I’m here.
There’s no recognition in Quynh’s eyes. No awareness. After near six hundred years, can there be anything left of her mind at all?
Nile feels like a coward at the strength of her relief when Nicky plunges a syringe into Quynh’s neck and she falls silent, unconscious.
- - -
She wakes with air in her lungs and faint sunlight in her eyes on a surface that is unfamiliar, in a cave that she knows. She wakes to the sound of a snore and a long forgotten sense of sleeping immortals near.
She wakes with no part of her body touched by a single drop of water, with the scent of sea salt still in her nose but the unmistakeable touch of an unmistakeable hand stroking her hair.
She cannot tell how long it has been. She cannot rightly remember anything that is not anguish or hatred for the world.
- - -
Quynh wakes with air in her lungs and a truth in her bones.
Andromache came for me.
- - -
- - -