Malina's head hurt, pain rocking back and forth in it. Her mouth tasted dry and sour, and her stomach rolled in contrary rhythm to her head. She let the bodily misery hold her and fill all her thoughts, keep out some thing worse, some thing she dared not let herself remember. Instead she catalogued the present agonies, the strengthlessness of her arms, the stickiness on her chin and neck that might be vomit, the old-fish reek of her surroundings.
Jofroy is dead.
The convulsion of her guts bent her in half, then rolled her onto her face. She coughed and retched up nothing but spit.
They killed Jofroy. Who else?
Because of me.
I want to die. I want to disappear. Jofroy is dead. Jofroy who winked at me and called me his mermaid. I want to die.
But she did not want to die, not quite. She didn't want the pain, the blood draining out, or water filling the throat and lungs, bursting.
I wish I was never born. Then nothing could have hurt anyone because of me.
She cried for a time, great gulping sobs that hurt her chest, a sorrow that needed no words or names to spur it, a loss so great she could not name all she had lost.
The only comfort that came to her was that she would die soon, when the fishermen discovered she didn't bring luck--what luck had she brought to her parents, to the scientists? (to Jofroy?)--they would give her back to the sea--her father--and she would drown.
Would they feel stupid when she drowned, or think it was some kind of trick? She could not understand people who did not admit empirical knowledge to affect their beliefs.
She ran through her despair as her sickness and head-ache lessened to bearability, and began to take note of her surroundings. She lay on a pile of nets, smelling of salt and fish and damp. It must be the hold of the fishing boat, sometimes full of silver-scaled fish wiggling and heaving. Now only her, and the water that slopped beneath her nest. It was quite dark, but that was no clue how long she had been unconscious, because she guessed the hold of a ship must be quite water-tight, and thus impervious to light as well.
I mustn't be afraid. They want me to be afraid so I will cling to them and do what they want. But if I'm afraid, I won't know what to do except what they tell me. So I won't be afraid. I will be clever instead. And I will stay alive.
Some long time afterwards, light spilled over her from a square opening above. Malina fisted her hands tight and stiffened her arms. She was only a little girl, but she knew about thinking. The voice that followed the light broke all her resolve.
"How can you leave her there? Would you treat your own daughter so? If she is the sea's daughter, what will the sea think of her lying there like flotsam, frightened and alone?"
"Doctor Soonan!" Malina shouted. "I'm down here!"
"I insist. Either you bring her up, or you put me down in the hold with her. I will not leave her unattended."
Malina could not make out the words of those who spoke then, only an abashed and resentful rhythm of speech. A rope sling came down to her, then shouted instructions on how to fit it around herself safely. She wriggled it quickly about herself and snugged it. Then the swaying, swinging lift to the open air and Doctor Soonan's embrace.
"Jofroy," Malina sobbed into the doctor's raw-silk breastpocket. "All bloody--"
Doctor Soonan stroked her back, the long brown fingers skilful. "I did not see, my dear. I had walked down to the cove, feeling somewhat uneasy about the others who might be on that boat, or coming into land by some other route. Yona did so poor a work of encouraging us to give you up that I could not help suspecting he was mere distraction."