“You have to will yourself to survive,” I told him.
He didn’t look at me.
“I’m not dying in this hole. Curran will come for me and we’ll get out of here. This isn’t how it ends. Hugh doesn’t get to win. We’ll survive this. One day I’m going to ram my broken sword right through his throat.”
Ghastek peered at me. His voice was hoarse. “Let me reiterate. We’ve been teleported to some unknown place probably thousands of miles away from everyone you know, possibly on another continent. The man who put us here likely teleported as well, taking the knowledge of our location with him, so nobody we know has even an infinitesimal idea of where we might be. We have no way to communicate with the outside world. Even if we could communicate by some magical means with those we know, we would be of no assistance, because we don’t know where we are. We’re floating in cold murky water.”
“It’s pretty warm, actually.”
He raised his finger. “I haven’t finished. We have no food. We have been here for at least forty-eight hours, because the hunger pangs I’m feeling are now less intense. Right now our bodies are burning through what meager fat reserves we have, which will result in severe ketosis, which in turn will lead to blood acidosis, bringing with it nausea and diarrhea. Soon faintness, weakness, and vertigo will follow. As our brains are deprived of the necessary nutrients, we’ll begin to hallucinate, and then we’ll suffer catastrophic organ damage, until finally we will die of cardiac arrest. It’s a brutal and torturous death. Mahatma Gandhi survived for twenty-one days when campaigning for India’s independence, but considering that we’re in the water and our bodies are going through nutrients at an accelerated rate, I give us two weeks, maximum.”
“If you ever decide on a career change, I’d avoid motivational speaking.”
“Don’t you understand? The only person who knows where we are is d’Ambray, and he put us here to slowly starve to death. Even if he changes his mind and decides to pull you out, since he has some strange fascination with you, he has no such relationship with me. I’m disposable. What few dealings I had with this man were abrupt to the point of rudeness. He clearly has no regard for me.”
“I promise you now that we went in here together and we’re leaving together. Curran will get me out and I won’t leave you behind.”
“To expect that Curran will somehow come and rescue you before we die is absurd.”
“You don’t know him like I do.”
“Kate! You are delusional!”
“This isn’t my first time trapped without food,” I said. “I used to have to do this frequently. We have water, which is a huge advantage. We’re not dead yet.”
He stared at me.
“I’ve survived the Arizona desert. I’ve survived in a forest scorched by fires. I’ve been starved, drowned, frozen, but I’m still here. The key to survival is to not give up. You have to fight for your life. You have to have hope. If you let go of hope, it’s over. Giving up is dying quietly with your hands bound in a hut where the man who tied you up threw you. Hope is kicking your way out and running ten miles across snow and forest against all odds.”
Ghastek blinked. “Did you actually do this?”
“Who put you in the hut?”
Ghastek opened his mouth. “Why? What kind of a father does that to a child?”
“The only one I had. Don’t give up. Don’t let the troglodyte win, Ghastek.”
He shook his head.
His brain was too loud. He needed to stop thinking, because his mind kept running in circles, driving him deeper into despair. Despair was the kiss of death.
We needed to conserve energy, but if I didn’t distract him, he would fold on me. “You keep analyzing the situation and the more you dissect it, the more hopeless it seems. Try not to think about it. Talk to me instead.”
“I don’t know. Why did you decide to become a navigator? Did you always want to pilot the undead? Why didn’t you strike out on your own? Why the People?” There, that ought to keep him occupied.
He hung motionless in the water. “Ghastek isn’t my real name. I grew up in Massachusetts, near Andover. I was smart and poor. Not crushingly poor. I’ve known children who were poorer. Poverty is when your parents get home from the first job and hurry up to eat their mac and cheese, because in five hours they have to get up for their second job and they want to catch some sleep. We weren’t quite that poor. We had food. We owned a house. I saw both of my parents at the dinner table at the same time.
“In eighth grade, there was a science tournament between the local schools. The local private preparatory academy was participating, primarily to demonstrate the vast superiority of its education over the public system. I won. The academy gave me a scholarship. I remember how happy my parents were for me. It was a Yale feeder school and they thought I now had a future. So the next school year, I started at the prep school. It was a forty-five-minute drive and every day my father would take me there in his work van. My father repaired gas lines. The van had a logo on it, written in large yellow letters: GasTek. The name of the company. Nobody was interested in learning my name. I became that Gastek kid, then Gastek, and then one of the class clowns thought it would be hilarious to slip an h in there. Ghastek. A not-so-subtle association with ‘ghastly.’ Ghastek or sometimes simply ‘the Creep.’ By the end of the year even the teachers didn’t call me by my name.”
I could hear the old bitterness in his voice. He’d come to terms with it, and it no longer hurt, but it was still there.
“I realized in that first year that I would never be accepted. It was understood by all that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how I brilliant I was, the best I could hope for was to work for one of my dumber classmates when we grew up. They would be the owners. I would be an employee. You see, it’s not enough to be smart. If you’re handsome or a good athlete, they might grant you some degree of acceptance, because adolescents are shallow. You might become a trophy for one of them, if you let yourself be used, but I was neither. Being rich would open the door a crack, but they would never let you in the whole way. They’ll spend your money and laugh at you behind your back. I’ve seen it. You see, money, brains, looks, none of it is enough. There is this thing called legacy. It wasn’t just about where you went to school or who with. It was about where your grandfather went to school and who his best friends were.”